Saturday, March 22, 2014

Occupy the Legislature: Jiang Yi-huah v. Lin Fei-fan

A ‘summit’ between the premier and a student leader didn’t yield anything, with both sides talking past each another

As President Ma Ying-jeou continues to refuse to address the students’ demands over the Cross Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), Premier Jiang Yi-huah jumped into the fray on Saturday by visiting the students at the Legislative Yuan — occupied since Tuesday night — for “dialogue.”

After an hour’ delay, Jiang, who was initially scheduled to arrive at three, parted a sea of protesters around the legislature and, after a brief period of chaos as reporters fought like wolves over a prized lamb, reached the side gate of the building on Qingdao Rd, where leader Lin Fei-fan, a graduate student at National Taiwan University, awaited. Jiang was flanked by Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (who did not say a word) and a handful of police officers.

Lin Fei-fan, right, speaks, as Lai Chung-chiang listens
Not unexpectedly, the “summit” was not exactly a resounding success, primarily because Jiang, presumably channeling President Ma, was there to lecture rather than engage in negotiations with the students, who have made clear demands regarding the pact and future negotiations with China. Jiang, standing a few meters away from Lin, said the Executive Yuan wanted the CSSTA passed because the pact was “fundamentally good” for Taiwan’s economy, a position that is disputed by many economists. Furthermore, as the activists have long argued, the EY isn’t the only institution that should be involved in determining whether agreements with an authoritarian and irredentist China are “good” for the nation. Jiang also refused to commit to establishing oversight regulations for future agreements with China, another demand of the activists.

As could be expected when emotions run high, the summit wasn’t without its glitches. Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), a lawyer with the Anti-Blackbox Service Agreement Alliance who stood next to Lin, often interrupted Jiang. Despite efforts by Lin to appease a disgruntled Lai, the lack of courtesy didn’t go unnoticed and may have cast a shadow on what was otherwise a significant development. (This is a battle to win hearts and minds; impolite behavior gives ammunition to the other side, which in this case has a compliant media and big business behind it. This was a tactical mistake that played right into Jiang’s hands and those who argue that the protesters are undemocratic.

For his part, Lin met the challenge with brio and would only cut Jiang short when the premier detracted from the demands. “Mr. Premier, you have all the mechanisms. If you want to speak to the public, you can hold press conferences whenever you want. However, we don’t have a lot of time, so please answer the questions,” Lin said at one point.

After Jiang, who smiled throughout, said that he had no intention of scrapping the pact altogether, the crowd cut him short and shouted, “Return the CSSTA!” and demanded direct communication with President Ma, who has so far refused to meet the protesters. Seeing that no progress could be made, Lin politely sent Jiang packing, sparking another bout of turmoil among journalists and Jiang’s surprisingly small security detail (a sign, again, that law enforcement authorities do not perceive the protesters as a threat to officials).

Police and journalists engage in a shoving match
Following the meeting, Jiang told a press conference that Taiwan could not afford to kill the pact, adding that it would help create 12,000 jobs and that it was a stepping stone to future agreements with other countries, rhetoric that the Ma administration used repeatedly ahead of the passing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in 2010. Jiang nevertheless said he hoped the pact would be “examined thoroughly” in the legislature. It wasn’t clear whether this meant a clause-by-clause review of the pact, which the two main political parties had agreed upon last year (the KMT broke that promise earlier this week, sparking the recent events at the legislature).

Following the summit, the activists inside the legislature issued their own press release.

“We believe that the Ma administration drafted, negotiated and signed the CSSTA behind closed doors in lieu of a monitoring mechanism for cross-strait agreements,” it said. “Despite the controversy, the administration has failed to properly explain its impact on Taiwan and its economy — holding just 10 public hearings in the span of less than a week.” As I noted in an earlier article, the problem isn’t just that the public hearings were rushed, but also that they were more show than substance.

“As we saw during the passage of the ECFA between 2009 and 2010, the current review process for cross-strait agreements in the legislature amounts to little more than a rubber stamp — exemplifying the undemocratic and autocratic nature of the Ma administration,” the group said.

“As a result, we — supported by tens of thousands of citizens with us and the millions more in support — repeat here that we demand that the CSSTA be sent back for renegotiation. We reject Premier [Jiang’s] comments and continue to await more constructive dialogue from President Ma Ying-jeou.”

So the standoff and occupation of the Legislative Yuan continues, and throughout the day KMT headquarters nationwide were confronted with protests.

A side note, which is based on my on-site observations in recent days and discussions with other journalists: Citizen 1985 types seem to have taken over public control around the legislature, erecting “boxes” in which protesters must remain while denying people access to certain areas. They have constantly bugged journalists, which on occasion has made it difficult for us to do our work (we waved them off today, however as we awaited Jiang’s arrival at the site). As I observed in a previous article, Citizen 1985, whose members consider themselves “high class” and who have had no compunction in smearing organizations like the Black Island Youth Alliance — one of the groups behind the occupy movement — are control freaks who constantly strive to reassure the authorities that their activities are peaceful. Close observation of their activities last year has led me to question both their allegiance and effectiveness (several of the original members have left the organization since its inception, and there is chatter, which I must emphasize remains unsubstantiated at this point, that some of them my in fact work in China). (Photos by the author)

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