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Why these Taiwanese call their president a "liar"

Amid a weakening economy, Taiwan's government comes under fire for its cross-strait economic plans.

Activists take part in a protest against economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) and cross-strait comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) in Taipei March 5, 2009. The Chinese characters read, "President Ma Ying-jeou liar." (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)

TAIPEI — To integrate, or not to integrate?

That's the question these days in Taiwan, where debate rages over a proposed economic pact with political rival China.

The two sides are already joined at the hip, economically speaking, with Taiwanese firms invested in China to the tune of $150 billion, by some estimates. But many barriers still remain, such as a 6.5 percent tariff on Taiwanese plastics, nearly 70 percent of which are exported to China.

Taiwan's China-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou wants to scrap as many of those tariffs as possible. So he has proposed a broad cross-strait economic deal to do just that. It's backed by many business leaders, who say the island will be marginalized unless it integrates more closely with the economic giant next door.

But when it comes to Taiwan-Chinese relations, nothing is easy. The island's pro-independence opposition objects to both the substance and process of Ma's proposed pact.

On substance, they say integrating with China isn't the right cure for Taiwan's economic ills. And they warn that such a pact would play into China's strategy for absorbing the island, in which free trade paves the way for political union.

"Their worry is that Taiwan could become a kind of economic colony of China," explained Liao Da-chi, a political scientist at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung.