TAIPEI -- A crackdown on protesters opposed to a cross-strait trade pact has dealt a serious blow to public opinion of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's government, almost certainly delaying enforcement of the agreement and possibly hurting prospects for other pro-China measures.
The government directed police early Monday to evict 200-300 students and other protesters who had broken into the Executive Yuan complex, which houses the executive branch.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced at a news conference Monday that 61 were detained, 35 arrested and 110 injured. The clampdown affected more than 2,000 protesters when those in surrounding areas are counted.
Jiang defended the action, arguing that because the complex holds important administrative and national-security materials, the break-in could not be ignored. He was more positive about the several hundred students occupying the Legislative Yuan, saying that protest leaders have maintained order.
The door is always open to an exchange of opinions, he said.
Jiang's softer stance is seen as stemming from concerns over public opinion. The Executive Yuan raid came after a news conference Sunday in which Ma dismissed the students' demands and calls for an open dialogue. The crackdown appears to have been an unplanned measure.
The move undeniably engendered distrust of the government among Taiwanese citizens.
Despite deeply rooted concerns over China's aim to eventually reunite with Taiwan, opposition to the pact was not necessarily unanimous. But after this clash, it is widely expected that the administration will have trouble getting approval for the pact during this legislative session, which closes at the end of May.
Taiwanese businesses, which had sought swift passage of the agreement, are deeply disappointed. Many big companies in areas such as medicine and finance had seen the pact, which bilaterally opens up service markets, as an opportunity to expand into the mainland. Six major industry groups had as recently as Thursday asked the legislature for a speedy review.
Taiwanese investment in China dropped 21% in 2013 to $8.7 billion due to a downturn in manufacturing investment. The service sector accounted for more than 30% of this figure, compared with 11% in 2005, according to the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.
Many contend that Taiwan must speed up its shift toward the service sector to bolster growth, but push-back against the government will likely hinder structural reform.
The administration hopes to enter into an agreement with China this year that would eliminate all tariffs in principle, which it sees as a concrete step toward fulfilling the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010. But it has become difficult to persuade farmers and others who are opposed to such an agreement.
The turmoil may also affect trips to Taiwan by Chinese VIPs.
Zhang Zhijun, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, had planned to visit as early as next month, according to Taiwanese media. Topics under discussion would likely have included conditions for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping sought by Ma. The visit is widely expected to be delayed for safety reasons.