Ma, in his inaugural address, laid out his promise in dealing with cross-strait relations that there would be "no reunification, no independence, and no war" (不統, 不獨, 不武) during his tenure as President. However, after Ma formally took office, his policies have been largely pro-PRC and have been seen by critics as part of a long-run scheme to steer Taiwan to "eventual unification." Critics argue that Ma, rather than follow his campaign promise, has been following his father's will instead, where Ma Ho-ling clearly states his final words were "Repress independence supporters; Lead (Taiwan) to unification." During an interview in England in 2006, Ma affirmed that his goal was to lead Taiwan to "eventual unification."
An article published in the August 11, 2008 edition of Time Magazine said that in less than three months' time, "relations between Taiwan and PRC have arguably seen the most rapid advancement in the six-decade standoff between the two governments. Ma launched direct weekend charter flights between PRC and Taiwan for the first time, opened Taiwan to mainland Chinese tourists, eased restrictions on Taiwan investment in mainland China and approved measures that will allow mainland Chinese investors to buy Taiwan stocks." He has also loosened bans on "Chinese brides," leading to social unrest over Chinese women who marry old veterans but file for divorce after they obtain citizenship.
During the Second Chen-Chiang summit visit by Chen Yunlin on November 3, 2008, chairman of the Beijing-based the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARAT), the opposition Pan-Green Coalition criticized the visit as "taking steps toward eventual reunification" and damaging Taiwan's sovereignty. Opposition to the visit by the chairman of the ARAT also sparked massive peaceful rallies and protests organised by the opposition DPP party on October 25, 2008. Preliminary estimates place the number of protesters at around 500,000. Protesters accused Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou "of making too many concessions and moving too fast in relaxing restrictions on trade and investment with China." Government's polls have suggested that Chen Yunlin's visit and the government's policy of normalising cross-strait relations have support of 50% to 60% of the Taiwanese population.
Chen's visit was the highest level visit from China to Taiwan that had taken place since the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Chen was expected to meet with his Taipei-based counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung beginning on November 4, 2008. The two sides signed four agreements on November 5, detailing the loosening of restrictions with regards to air, marine, and postal links as well as better regulations on food safety. The Ma government refused to disclose the treaties only until days before they went into effect.
During Chen's visit in Taipei, he was met with a series of strong protests directed at himself and Ma Ying-jeou, some of which were violent, with Molotov cocktails being thrown by the protesters at riot police. A series of arrests were made after the protests, with a secret letter being sent from the police to a member of the media. Local police reported that 149 of its officers were injured during the opposition protests. Chen referred to Ma simply as "Mr. Ma," not as "President". However, this is consistent with the previous convention in 2008, when KMT ex-politician Lien Chan met Hu Jintao in Peru. Lien did not call the PRC President Hu Jintao "President," but instead used his title "General Secretary" as the head of the Communist Party of China.
After the chaos during and after Chen's visit, college students and professors launched a peaceful sitout, known as the Wild Strawberry student movement (Chinese: 野草莓運動), demanding a more reasonable assembly law and a stop to police violence. A few days into the sitout, the prime minister Liu Chao-shiuan accidentally spoke of his opinion during an interview on air that he did not think the movement would last more than three days, angering students, professors, and the general public. In the end, the sitout lasted one month. Then, it moved into an organizational direction. However, the polls in two of Taiwan's biggest newspapers after the visit still reported that about 70% of the Taiwanese public considered Chen's visit to have a positive effect on Taiwan's development, while 22% of the respondents thought the effect would be negative, with the remaining 8% not expressing an opinion. The opposition Pan-Green caucus have continuously alleged this result being a form of media manipulation by the KMT. However, other major polls in Taiwanese newspapers and news websites have shown similar results regardless of political alignment.
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“So soon did we, wayfarers, begin to learn that mans life is rounded with the same few facts, the same simple relations everywhere, and it is vain to travel to find it new.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)