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August 18, 2017

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42 student groups for 'strike' over trade pact with mainland China

TAIPEI--Over 40 university student groups have signed a petition to support a "strike" by classes nationwide to oppose a service trade pact with China that they say was negotiated with Beijing in a non-transparent manner.

As of Monday afternoon, 42 groups, including the student associations of National Taiwan University, National Tsing Hua University and National Chengchi University, had signed the online petition, calling for the government to halt the legislative processing of the trade-in services agreement signed in June last year.

Student-led protesters stormed the Legislature March 18 and have been occupying the main chamber since then in protest against the pact.

The protest leaders have vowed the continued occupation of the Legislature and called for the nationwide strike Sunday after expressing disappointment over President Ma Ying-jeou's response to the protest.

In a statement issued Monday, students from the Taipei National University of the Arts' School of Theatre Arts expressed concern that the pact would hurt their artistic freedom of expression because it would open music venues and theaters to Chinese investment.

Comparison to Tiananmen

"We do not trust Chinese-funded enterprises that are involved too deeply with the Chinese government," the statement said. "Moreover, when we are not creating art, we do not wish to deplete our strength by dealing with censorship."

The students said they cannot accept any form of censorship in the topics embraced by their work, which could include nudity, violence, history, democracy, homosexuality and the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Under the trade pact, Taiwan would open concert halls and theaters to Chinese investors, although they would be limited to shares of under 50 percent. China, on the other hand, would open such venues to Taiwanese investors, but with no 50-percent share limit.

Taiwanese officials have argued that the under-50 percent share limit imposed on Chinese investors will ensure that Taiwan's freedom of expression is not harmed by Chinese investment.

Meanwhile, despite the student groups' open support of the protesters, it was unclear how many students actually went on strike Monday.

Several universities said they did not see an obvious drop in student attendance, while others said it is difficult to gauge attendance, given the diversity of university courses.

National Sun Yat-sen University's Department of Sociology said Sunday that it would suspend classes until the end of the protests. National Tsing Hua University's Institute of Sociology and National Taipei University's Department of Sociology have also announced the suspension of classes for a week in support of the protests.

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