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Taiwanese protest talks with China

Marchers say the government is making too many concessions in trying to improve trade and relations.

October 26, 2008|Mark Magnier | Magnier is a Times staff writer.

BEIJING — Tens of thousands of protesters in Taipei, Taiwan, marched Saturday against an upcoming visit by a senior Chinese envoy, fearful that China is trying to assert control over the island.

The demonstration, organized by Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party, presents a challenge to President Ma Ying-jeou, who has made improved trade, political and cultural relations a cornerstone of his administration.

Protesters, some wearing "Defend Taiwan" or "Stop Selling Taiwan!" T-shirts, accused Ma of making too many concessions to China, moving too quickly and endangering the island's unique identity.

"We're against being together with China," said Yeh Tsai-chu, 54, a businessman living in the city of Taoyuan near Taipei. "We fear we will be like China one day, with no freedom of speech or religion."

Former President Chen Shui-bian, whose eight-year tenure was marked by anti-China policies, mercurial decision-making and several corruption scandals, joined the march. People snaked for several miles over three hours in the afternoon, ending near the presidential palace.

Under Ma's initiative, China and Taiwan held talks on improved relations in June, the first in almost a decade; launched regular direct flights between the two; and allowed more mainland tourists to visit the island. Ma told military leaders last week that there would be no war with China during his four-year term.

China and Taiwan separated in 1949 after a protracted civil war. Beijing considers the self-governed island part of its territory and has vowed to prevent it from declaring independence, by force if necessary.

A second round of talks is scheduled for November between Chen Yunlin, chairman of China's semiofficial Assn. for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung.

Analysts said public discontent has been fueled by pocketbook and safety concerns.

"If the economy were better, I think there would be more support for improved cross-Strait relations," said Chao Chien-min, a professor at National Chengchi University. "This has allowed the opposition party to argue that the government is not attending to people's interests."

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Special correspondent Cindy Sui in Taipei contributed to this report.

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