TAIPEI: Anti-Beijing protesters chanted outside a high-level business meeting in Taiwan on Monday where the founder of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba called on the island’s youth to start businesses on the mainland.
Trade with China is a particularly sensitive topic as fears grow over the mainland’s increased influence on Taiwan — a factor which contributed to the ruling Beijing-friendly party’s worst-ever polls defeat at recent local elections in Taiwan.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who recently became Asia’s richest man, was addressing business leaders from China and Taiwan to tie in with an eight-day visit by a top Chinese envoy.
Dozens of pro-independence activists chanting “Chinese communists back to China!” and “Chinese communists are coming to trap Taiwan investors!” were held back by police barricades outside the two-day forum.
One was pushed to the ground as he tried to break through police lines and four protesters were taken away, but later released.
“The summit is a joint effort by Beijing and the rich and the powerful of the two sides to decide the future of Taiwan’s economy. Taiwan is a democratic country, they have no right to do that,” said Lai Chung-chiang, spokesman for the group.
Senior China envoy Chen Deming, who was also at the business meeting, has been dogged by protesters during his tour.
But Ma, 50, encouraged young people to “reach out” to the mainland and Alibaba itself.
“I welcome those young people from Taiwan who would like to start up their businesses in the mainland to reach out to Alibaba, either joining Alibaba or Alibaba’s business ecosystems,” said Ma.
“The theme of the forum is transformation and upgrade, but [this can be done]only if everybody upgrades their mindset and hands over the future to young people.”
He also urged Taiwan’s small businesses to sell their products to the mainland using Hangzhou-based Alibaba as a platform.
Ma, a former English teacher, started Alibaba in his apartment in 1999. He has seen his fortune balloon after a record-breaking $25 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in September.
Young people and small businesses are particularly incensed by trade deals between Taiwan and China that they feel have been agreed in secret and not benefited the ordinary Taiwanese public. Students took over parliament for three weeks from March to protest against a service trade deal.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, but Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification—by force if necessary.
Monday’s meeting was attended by top business figures, including Morris Chang, chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world’s biggest contract microchip company.