In an attempt to break an impasse with students occupying the legislature, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou says he will throw his support behind a new law to establish a monitoring mechanism for all future accords signed with China.
His olive branch was met with boos from the protesters, most of them students, who had occupied the Parliament building and its surrounding roads for almost two weeks in opposition to a service trade agreement signed with China last June.
They are calling for 100,000 people to stage a rally today to further ratchet up pressure on the government. Many view the pact as a threat to the Taiwanese way of life, believing China will use it as a Trojan horse to dominate Taiwan's economy - and eventually the island itself.
Mr Ma, whose administration has inked 21 agreements with China since 2008, sought to mollify the protesters ahead of the rally. He said at a press conference yesterday that he will work with legislators to pass by end-May the proposed law to strengthen scrutiny of cross-strait agreements.
But he ruled out retracting the pact already signed with Beijing, as it will be a "body blow" to Taiwan's international credibility as well as its economic development. Any backtracking would also affect Taiwan's ability to join multilateral trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he warned.
He also cited a poll to support his argument, saying that some 40 per cent of Taiwanese residents believe the current pace of developing economic ties with China is appropriate, while 20per cent feel it is too slow. In contrast, just over 30 per cent of respondents say economic ties with the mainland are proceeding too fast.
The student protests are rapidly turning into the biggest political crisis facing Mr Ma, with talk that it might even derail a potential meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which would be historic if it were to take place.
Mr Ma maintained that there was "no linkage" between the student protests and the proposed meeting. But he was visibly frustrated at times during the press conference, which stretched on for over an hour at his official residence, such as when he was asked whether he was "selling out Taiwan".