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Taiwan Protest Over China Trade Pact Won't Deter Any Ma-Xi Meeting

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[March 29, 2014]  By Michael Gold

TAIPEI (Reuters)  Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said on Saturday student protests over a controversial trade pact with mainland China will not affect the potential for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Taiwan's parliament building has been occupied by hundreds of protesters for almost two weeks over the government's decision to agree to a deal that would open 80 of China's service sectors to Taiwan, and 64 Taiwanese sectors to China.

Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since the Communists defeated the Nationalists and took power on the mainland in 1949, though relations have warmed considerably since the China-friendly Ma won the presidency in 2008 and secured re-election in 2012.

Both Taiwan and China have expressed interest in a historic meeting between the two countries' leaders, though no timeframe or venue has been set.

The student protests are the biggest challenge to Ma's rule since he took office.

Ma has said the trade agreement is necessary for Taiwan's economic future, but opponents say the deal could hurt small Taiwanese companies. Many also worry the pact will allow Beijing to expand its influence over a fiercely independent and proudly democratic territory that China sees as a renegade province.

Ma told a media conference at his official residence the current pace of Taiwan's economic progress with China was appropriate.

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He added that he saw no impact on Chinese tourism to Taiwan from the trade pact protests.

Taiwan made a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s, and is now one of Asia's most freewheeling democracies.

In recent years the two sides have built up extensive economic ties, yet booming trade has not brought progress on political reconciliation or reduced military readiness on either side.

(Writing by Paul Carsten in Beijing; editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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