On March 19, students occupied Taiwan’s legislature to protest President Ma Ying-jeou and his Kuomintang (KMT) government’s handling of the services trade agreement with China (CSSTA). With strong public backing, the protest swelled into what is now known as the Sunflower Movement. The movement won the support of major KMT figures for a compromise that would see the services pact, and any future agreements with China, undergo more thorough—and public—scrutiny. The protest leaders have now announced that they will vacate the legislature on Thursday evening.
These dramatic events are forcing a rethink about the very nature of the China-Taiwan relationship. Until now, many observers had taken the magnetic attraction of the Chinese market for Taiwan as a given. After all, China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, and its growth continues to lead the world despite signs of cooling. Taiwan, on the other hand, remains in a prolonged slump. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that both sides of the Taiwan Strait signed in 2010 was therefore seen as the first step toward Taiwan’s economic integration with China.
Indeed, things did begin to change on the ground. Tourists from the mainland are now a common sight around Taiwan. And it is widely believed that Beijing uses its vast resources to influence the island’s media and politics. It was not surprising, then, that an observer like John Mearsheimer would invite his readers to say goodbye to Taiwan earlier this year. Nor did it seem unreasonable for South Koreans to fret over China’s manufacturing base combining with Taiwan’s technological know-how. They even coined a portmanteau for this looming threat to their exports—“Chiwan”.