When trying to come up with a “pompous” title for this article, Elton John’s song “Don’t Let the Sun Goes Down on Me” suddenly came to mind. If you haven’t heard this song, do click here for Joe Cocker’s version.
Yes, I am writing on the recent Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan. It seems to me that the students were trying to make a push for the Sun (democracy and freedom) not to go down as the current Taiwan government is trying to ink a services trade deal with China. For details, you can click on the links.
Some observations and comments:
i. Under the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, there are two components : goods and services. However, President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration went ahead with services FTA agreement rather than goods, where in most negotiations it would be easier to conclude goods than services. Services FTAs are notoriously difficult to conclude as they could encroach on the country’s sensitive industries like IT services, Financial services etc. Under Taiwan’s constitution, as Ma cannot run for another term as President and it is possible that he might have try to cement his legacy by inking this deal.
Unfortunately, it backfired on him as the service FTA was being found to be wanting, with no impact analysis on affected industries and consultation with industry stakeholders, notably the Small and Medium Enterprises. For assistance, Ma only promised NTD 98.2 billions but there is no detail plan on its breakdown. In trying to pitch this FTA, Ma could only say that it has “More Merits than Demerits” (in Chinese 利大于弊 lì dà yú bì) but could not substantiate it further.
Comment : It is obvious that the service FTA did not get the required buy-in from discerned Taiwanese. In this Internet era, any political mistake would be amplified due to the broadcast nature of social media. Politicians must not assume that even if the Party has majority in the House (Ma’s KMT party has the majority in the Legislation House) and can rubber-stamp any legislation; if they have not done their homework, they could be caught with their pants down. As it is, Ma has been labeled as “Traitor” in selling Taiwan to China due to this fiasco.
ii) What price civil disobedience? By occupying the Legislation House on Mar 18, the students have committed an act of civil disobedience. Scouring the comments in Taiwan’s social media revealed that there were those who were for it and those who were against. The pro-netizens thought the students were a fresh political voice as they were tired of the internal scuffles between KMT and DPP party, which seemed to nudge Taiwan into internal destruction. They also praised the students who had guts to defend Taiwan’s democracy and freedom by sacrificing themselves.
Those who were against were opposed to civil disobedience as a way to getting the message across to the government; since it would mean that government would be held ransom to these “protesters” if any protester decides to occupy building. They also argued that in a democracy, if the politician is not performing, just vote him out the next time. Some also penned that the economic integration with China is inevitable and why bother with the protest. A few also thought the students, who came from elite universities, should not jeopardise their careers since they would be prosecuted for illegal occupation.
Comment : The students have said that they went ahead with the occupation with the full awareness of the legal consequences. I think the students took such a drastic step as they love Taiwan too much that they are willing to bear any consequences, as it is common belief that the service FTA would integrate Taiwan and China further and a step towards reunification. As it is, the service FTA was negotiated without proper due diligence and it might have been worse if it is pushed through by Ma’s administration.
I also believe that reunification would be inevitable in the long run, but Taiwan could protect its key service industries by not selling short to China. In this way, it would maintain its key competitiveness and not degrades itself into a second or third tier city without any competitiveness when reunification happens.
I think this movement is an important step for Taiwan’s democratization. Present and future governments would be careful that they do not take citizens for granted as any mis-calculation would have backlash.
The movement also throws up interesting media/political/Internet events. I would pen them in the next few articles. Stay tuned!