TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Youth groups in Taiwan are marking the anniversary of a movement that occupied the island's parliament and scuttled the ratification of a trade pact with China, Taiwan's biggest trading partner and erstwhile political foe.
A rally outside parliament Wednesday evening followed by an overnight event Sunday will draw new attention to what has become known as the Sunflower Movement, which handed Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou his toughest crisis since taking office in 2008.
Stung by the occupy movement and tens of thousands of sympathy protesters, Ma's Nationalist Party lost nine local elections in November, prompting him to resign as party head.
Protests last year also dealt a blow to Taiwan's relations with China, which have improved during Ma's term but remain tense because of Beijing's desire to have the island unify with the mainland. Beijing has claimed Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, but Taiwanese prize their democratic self-rule.
Relations between Taipei and Beijing have changed little since last year's protests, with no new deals reached between the two sides, chilling Taiwan's economic expansion. Ma's government has kept quiet on China since the local election losses as the party gears up for the January 2016 presidential election, which may be decided in part by voters who want more distance from China.
"The government people are cautious because there's so much that could go wrong when it comes to China," said Ross Feingold, senior adviser with U.S.-based consultancy firm D.C. International Advisory. "If an agreement is on the table, somebody is going to criticize it."
The Nationalists' chief opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party, advocates more restraint in negotiating with China, playing to the ideals of the Sunflower Movement protesters.
On the night of March 17, 2014, several hundred people, apparently led by university students, entered the parliament's normally guarded assembly hall in central Taipei to stop a proposed fast-track ratification of a Taiwan-China service trade liberalization pact. The pact was signed in 2013 and would open markets to 144 sectors, including finance.
Parliament has not ratified the trade deal, irking China as well as Ma's government.
Additional young Taiwanese joined protesters outside the gates of parliament to question whether Taiwan should continue economic ties with China as long as the two sides are politically at odds. They named their movement after the sunflower, saying they were looking into the light of Taiwan's problems.
A civilian group called the Economic Democracy Union prepared for a concert and speeches Wednesday. Member Chien Nien-you said the group wants more public oversight over deals between Taiwan and China and more flexibility in the constitution for introducing legislation, so that "everyday people's ideas can get heard."