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May 27, 2017

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Trade pact won't be solved by occupation: Ma

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that issues such as the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement should be resolved among lawmakers, adding that it can't be solved by a prolonged activist occupation of the Legislature.

A solution to issues such as these requires a passionate heart and a calm head, Ma said.

The president made the comments during a meeting with Richard Bush, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, at the Presidential Office.

Ma said that the Kuomintang caucus has agreed to send the service trade pact back for a committee article-by-article review, which is consistent with the main demand that the student activists made on March 18, the day they stormed the Legislature.

Many of the activists at the sit-in outside the Legislative Yuan believe that without an article-by-article review there isn't procedural justice, Ma said.

The government is happy to speak to members of all sectors, including students, and it is hoping to bring closure to this issue soon, so that the pact can be reviewed and voted on article-by-article, which is the most fundamental way of solving this problem, the president said.

The Cabinet will pass a draft bill on the proposed cross-strait agreement supervisory act on April 3 and submit it to the Legislature for deliberation, Ma said.

The Executive Yuan is also considering convening a national affairs conference on trade and economics, giving a chance to representatives from all sectors to participate in the discussion on Taiwan's economic challenges, the president said.

Request for Dialogue

Ma said that the student activists requested dialogue on March 22, and that he asked Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to visit them at the Legislative Yuan.

The students, however, said that unless the premier promised to retract the service trade pact, they wouldn't talk to him, Ma said, adding that over the past week, he publicly expressed a willingness to talk to the students without preconditions on several occasions, hoping to exchange opinions and find a solution.

The economic challenges that Taiwan is facing are very serious, Ma said, adding that if the island doesn't seize the opportunity to participate in regional economic integration, Taiwan's overall economic competitiveness will fall behind, leading to more unemployment, especially among the younger generation.

Since the service trade pact was signed in June 2013, lawmakers were unable to make much progress in their deliberation, creating concern among a lot of foreign businesses and representatives in Taiwan, Ma said.

If the government can't handle this issue properly, the development of Taiwan's service sector as well as the island's overall economic growth will be affected, Ma said, adding that Taiwan's international credibility will also be tarnished.

This is very important to Taiwan, the president said, stressing that it would be impossible to retract the service trade pact.

The president, however, lauded the demonstration in front of the Presidential Office on March 30, saying that the protest was peaceful and that it exemplified democratic values.

Bush reportedly recommended that the government set up a platform for communication with the student activists in order to bring closure to the issue.

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