Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Taiwan Executes 5 Death Row Inmates as Political Crisis Deepens

The execution of two brothers based on evidence provided by China creates a worrying precedent for cross-strait judicial cooperation 

Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice on April 29 ordered the sudden execution of five individuals on death row in a move that has been widely seen as an attempt to distract the public amid snowballing crises over nuclear energy, a trade pact with China and a proposed experimental free-trade zone. 

Deng Kuo-liang, Liu Yan-kuo, Dai Wen-ching, and brothers Tu Ming-lang and Tu Ming-hsiung were executed by firing squad in the evening. According to Amnesty International, the suspects’ families and lawyers were not informed in advance. Although the Ma Ying-jeou administration has expressed its intention to abolish the death penalty in line with international standards, its actions have cast doubt on that commitment.Since the lifting of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty from December 2005 to April 2010, the Ma government has executed a total of 26 death row inmates. A dozen were executed between December 2012 and April 2013, in what Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called “a step backwards for Taiwan’s justice system and Taiwan’s official rhetoric in support of human rights.” Taipei has fallen back on opinion polls showing 76 percent support for the death penalty to justify inaction on the matter. 

Monday’s executions occurred amid an unprecedented political crisis on the island, and many critics of the Ma government have argued that the timing was not by accident. On the night of the executions, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, the Judicial Reform Foundation, and the Taiwan Association for Innocence drew a direct link between the executions and a wave of protests against government policies, which have dragged the administration’s support rates to lows unprecedented in Taiwan’s democratic history. On March 18, activists from the Sunflower Movement launched a three-week occupation of the Legislative Yuan (LY) over the controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), an agreement signed in secrecy with China and which critics claim did not receive proper review and scrutiny. The occupation followed a series of protests stemming back to June 2013, when the pact was signed in Shanghai, that were altogether ignored by the government. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Taiwan Rocked by Anti-Nuclear Protests

Anti-nuclear protesters have taken to the streets of Taipei to demand the end of atomic energy on the island 

Less than a month after the unprecedented occupation of the Legislative Yuan by the Sunflower Movement, riot police and water cannons were once again deployed on the streets of Taipei. But this time, the object of the protests wasn’t a controversial services trade pact with China, but rather nuclear energy, a major point of contention since the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant in Japan. 

At the center of the storm is the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant currently under construction in Gongliao, New Taipei City. Though ostensibly a much safer design than earlier generations of reactors, fears remain that the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) at the Fourth power plant is an unstable assemblage of various systems — a nuclear Frankenstein monster, if you will. Moreover, opponents of the project argue that Taiwan, a highly active seismic area, is too vulnerable to natural catastrophes, including tsunamis and powerful typhoons. Also, they argue that the small size of the island and proximity of nuclear power plants to high-density urban centers raise questions about the ability of the government to evacuate the population in case of a nuclear emergency. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo courtesy of Hsiengo Huang)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Thugs come out on Taipei’s East Side (中文 link at bottom)

Crew working for the Farglory Group at the site of the Taipei Dome are ripping beautiful trees around the area and turning to goons to scare off environmental activists

In the past year I’ve often referred to Miaoli County as Taiwan’s “Far West,” a sobriquet attributable to the fact that pretty much anything goes there when it comes to the ability of local officials getting their way, often with the help of bought local police and, when necessary, gangsters. The corollary was that such lawlessness would not occur in more “civilized” parts of Taiwan, such as in Taipei. Think again.

As we all know, construction projects — roads, bridges, large infrastructure — are notorious for the kickbacks and corruption that accompanies them. What is also known is that following the nationwide crackdown on organized crime in the 1990s, the major triads reinvented themselves as “businesses” and many of them went in the construction sector. For one thing, such efforts were more lucrative than running prostitution dens, underground gambling, or selling drugs, while the “clearer” nature of their work made them more socially acceptable, not to mention less likely to attract the attention of law enforcement. Better therefore to threaten officials and get a lucrative construction deal than break knees or engage in shootouts that are bound to land gang leaders in jail.

What happens, then, when ordinary citizens oppose construction projects, land grabs, urban renewal, or development that fails to take the law or the environment into account, is that the goons come out. They have their deals with land developers, city councilors and officials, and they expect to be able to go ahead and build without accountability, even if the proper public consultations expected in a healthy democracy do not happen.

I’ve already written at length about such behavior in Yuanli, Miaoli County, where a foreign wind power company, with the complicity of local officials and the central government, has gotten away with breaking the law (and the bones of elderly local residents). We’re seen similar incidents at Taipei’s Huaguang Community, where residents who refused to be evicted to clear the land for a major luxurious construction project were fined by the government and harassed by individuals of questionable backgrounds — not to mention an unexplained fire that destroyed the house of an elderly woman who refused to leave (she later died). Lapses were also noticed in Shilin over the Wang Jia property, which also faced demolition, and where thugs passing off as construction workers physically assaulted protesters, including young women. In all those cases, police did nothing to protect citizens and showed every sign that it was siding with the construction companies and their government backers.

Now this is happening again, this time in Taipei’s east side, and the developer in question is the Farglory Group. While everybody’s attention is turned to the large anti-nuclear protests on Ketagalan Blvd and outside Taipei Main Station, the construction crew has been busy removing, and in some instances sawing off, old trees on Guangfu S Rd, Zhongxiao E Rd and Yixian Rd. Farglory and its contractors were reportedly given the green light by the Taipei City Government to get rid of the trees to expand the site of the Taipei Dome, which is being built on the site of the old Tobacco Factory. Trees lining the sidewalk, along with those on the road dividers on Guangfu, were to be transplanted.

The situation on Guangfu S Rd
However, starting on Thursday night, locals and environmentalists realized that something wasn’t right: the trees were being ripped off the ground (transplanting a tree requires careful work), while others, as we saw, were simply being cut. Several trees were broken in half by excavators. Workers then poured concrete in the holes. The beautiful Bombax Ceiba, or “red silk cotton” trees, were planted about 40 years ago and were part of a landscape that local residents had come to love. The trees that have already been removed were taken away and nobody seems to know where (they can be turned into plywood). Farglory, which evidently cannot be bothered to spend a little more money to preserve the beautiful trees, reportedly intends to replace them with coconut trees. Several other trees have been marked for removal, perhaps as early as this evening.

As with everything else that has prompted protests in the past two years, the source of the problem is lack of transparency and the government’s making a mockery of democratic procedures. Activists turned up, and things got a bit ugly early on Friday when some of them attempted to block construction workers who were trying to uproot the trees. Some sat on the roots and were practically hacked away by the workers. Police looked on, documented the protesters’ efforts, and warned them that if they got injured in the process, it was their fault.

More worryingly, intimidation is now also a factor in the crisis, which continues as I write this. Young female protesters have been followed my masked individuals at night, so much so that the activists have instructed women who need to walk around the area to always do so in pairs.

We did a walk-by earlier today and experienced some of that intimidation ourselves. After chatting with the activists, we decided to walk along Zhongxiao E Rd towards Yixian Rd. As we were walking, we came upon an opening that gave onto the large construction site. We stopped to take a look, and my wife began taking pictures. Immediately, a large construction worker parked at a little shack by the gate started shouting at us and told us that we were not allowed to take pictures. Given that we had not entered the construction site and were on a public sidewalk, I went over to the man — a largish guy with missing teeth and every sign of a betel nut-chewing habit — and asked him why. No explanation was given; we just couldn’t. I asked him whether we were in Taiwan or in China, where this sort of thing happens all the time. He assured me that we were in Taiwan. I had to check.

No sooner had we resumed our walk than we noticed that we were being followed by a man in his fifties wearing a gray shirt. We’d seen him chatting with the man I’d just quizzed. He shadowed us for over 200 meters until we stopped and let him walk by, whereupon we asked him what he wanted. He pretended to ignore us and turned left on Yixian Rd. We resumed our walk, turned on the same street, and saw him having a chat with a police officer right outside the Criminal Investigation Bureau office. We doubled back, crossed over to the other side of Zhongxiao Rd, where we were again followed by a man in a similar gray shirt, who eventually went into the MRT station.

This was intimidation, pure and simple. They didn’t even make any effort to be subtle, in fact, as in China they wanted us to know that we were being followed. Those are the kinds of people who do the dirty work for the president of the Farglory Group, a man infamous for saying last year that civic activists who call for justice are hampering development.

With police once again failing to do its duty to protect citizens (and demonstrating that it is actually in bed with the developers), it isn’t a bit surprising that the activist are now receiving protection by a group of very large animal rescuers from the EMT Tough organization. Those of us who spent time at the legislature during the occupation by the Sunflower Movement will immediately recognize them. If police won’t do its job, rough types (some of those guys have affiliations with organized crime) will do it as society fights back. (Photos by Ketty W. Chen)

New! A Chinese-language translation of this article is available here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

To buy or not to buy? A dilemma for Taiwan’s Navy

Instead of wasting precious defense budgets on rather useless and highly vulnerable surface combatants, Taiwan’s military should focus on smaller items that will make the PLA’s life difficult 

As reported by The Diplomat last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the sale of four decommissioned U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates under an excess defense article (EDA) reallocation program. Although the expected decision was hailed in some corners as a sign of healthy U.S.-Taiwan relations, the sale of — let’s be honest here — mothballed military equipment makes little sense from a military and economic standpoint. In fact, no sooner had the announcement been made than Taipei, which faces serious budgetary constraints, said it was only interested in acquiring two. This is probably the right decision. A better one yet would be to not buy a single one. 

Plans to pass on the USS Taylor, USS Gary, USS Carr, and USS Elrod to the Taiwan Navy go back a few years. Although the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs agreed to introduce legislation that would authorize the sale of all four frigates in November 2013, Taipei had already decided in late 2011 that it would only seek to acquire two platforms. Reports at the time cited cost and technical considerations, as well as the need for the Taiwanese military to repay nearly US$18 billion in arms purchases from the U.S. since 2008. 

Cost indeed matters, especially when it has become clear that Taiwan cannot afford to engage in a ton-for-ton arms race with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). If the sale proceeds as planned, with plans for delivery in 2015, the two decommissioned frigates, which are to be stripped of all weapons and electronics, will cost Taiwan approximately NT$5.6 billion (US$185 million). To put things in perspective, the acquisition of the two empty hulls, which entered service in 1984-85, will cost Taiwan about 1/57th of its entire annual defense budget, and that does not include the millions more that will be necessary to outfit the vessels with electronics, warfare suites, and weapons systems (presumably Hsiung Feng II and III anti-ship missiles, among others). 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Corcuff: Negotiate, or face revolutionaries

In a guest post, Professor Stéphane Corcuff warns that a refusal by the government to listen to the demands of civil society could plant the seeds of future activism and instability

As the students declared the occupation of Taiwan’s parliament over at 6pm on Thursday, 10 April, and were exiting the legislature one by one under the applause of about 20,000 people on Jinnan Rd, the cleaning teams of volunteers who had surrounded the Legislative Yuan for three weeks were busy meeting a tough deadline — to evacuate tons of material by early morning.

Their work was officially finished at 3:10am on Friday, April 11. As daylight broke, there was nothing left on the streets; everything was perfectly clean. One could not but be amazed by the radical fortnight transformation of the scene. Some students fainted during the last day and night, during the last hours, and during daytime on Friday. The last went back home at around noon, after falling asleep in a nearby park on Linsen S Rd. Some slept on concrete or on the pavement.

The students who occupied Parliament had embarked on a long journey against Ma Ying-jeou’s style of government and policies. The first conclusion that could be drawn after their April 7 announcement that they would terminate their occupation was that the movement was not finishing, and would on the contrary go on from one cause to another, after gaining strong momentum by the three-week occupation. The angry protest on April 11 against Fang Yang-ning, the chief police officer of Zhongzheng First Police Precinct, appeared to be a possible confirmation of this, though the organizers were not the students themselves.

The cause of that protest was the double standards attributed to Fang: On one side, he had let Chang An-le, or the “White Wolf,” organize an illegal protest of a few hundreds people against the students occupying Parliament the week before, and had defended himself for doing so by saying that they were simply “passing by” (路過), even though Chang’s group was there for several hours and his militants attacked their opponents at least four times. On the other side, the morning after evacuation of the Parliament by the students, Fang revoked the permit to “occupy the road” (路權) (in fact, a portion of the sidewalk) in front of the Legislative Yuan. The permit had been granted to the Alliance for a Referendum to Protect Taiwan (公投護臺灣聯盟), a peaceful organization advocating a referendum on Taiwan’s official name and status. The Alliance had been there for almost five years.

People were already very upset with Fang’s perceived resentment of the Sunflower Movement. The term “路過,” or “I’m just passing by,” became a joke for anyone visiting any place or any person. The list of jokes made at the expense of people who supported the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) during the Sunflower movement also targeted Chiu Yi, a former KMT legislator, and his “bananas.” But when Fang revoked the permit for the Alliance, the humor turned into anger and calls for an apology and his resignation. The anger was palpable, and noted by many at the site, including the author.

One of the amazing dimensions of the Sunflower movement lays in the asymmetry of conventional political forces. Against a rich and hegemonic political party, which never lost power since 1945 (except the presidency of the Republic between 2000 and 2008, though it maintained a legislative majority), a student movement rose, and did so without the support of opposition parties. Its financial means were very limited, and it grew strong through organization and donations, hundreds of volunteers’ countless hours of work, intense social media use and immense sacrifices by many people who demonstrated astonishing energy. The KMT and President Ma control most of the power “inside the system” (體制), yet he appears to have little understanding, or at least little control, of what is outside it (體制外): the young, connected, disillusioned generation of Taiwanese that has re-politicized itself through a series of protests over various issues during Ma’s six years in office.

In spite of the disproportion of conventional political forces, they left Parliament with a general feeling among Taiwanese society that they had won the battle. If the conflict was asymmetrical and they nevertheless won, it meant that such a war was not fought on conventional grounds, and goes well beyond the traditional elements of political power controlled by President Ma, and which, under normal circumstances, should help him: the police force, the neutrality of foreign governments, the support of some key media, and the legality and logic of his stance that a legislature should not be occupied by demonstrators and should be left alone to produce laws.

Obviously, President Ma has failed so far to put an end to the determination and the strength of the students. The occupation of the parliament may even be the most, if not the only, successful movement of occupation launched in recent years around the world, and thus deserves to be studied outside the realm of Taiwan studies and of Taiwan watchers. The movement, indeed, has succeeded in:

-       radically altering President Ma’s agenda;
-       depriving the KMT in Taiwan and the Chinese Communist party of their self-attributed monopoly over the negotiation of agreements across the strait;
-       awakening the public over the necessity to have a critical and powerful legislature;
-       winning the support of a very significant portion of the population;
-       imposing the principle of a clear and transparent mechanism of cross-strait negotiation, of Legislative steering of agreements, and if necessary of renegotiation before final ratification;
-       reopening the complex question of Taiwan’s identity vis-à-vis China, a question that had been buried by a KMT that had turned sympathetic to China since its reconciliation with its decades-old enemy, the CCP, in 2005

In addition, and even if it was not its aim, the movement has provoked a deep feud within the KMT, one that that had not been seen since the Lee Teng-hui years, when the Taiwanese president was fighting against the non-mainstream conservative faction, especially between 1988-1990 and in 2000.

When on March 18 a few dozen students forced their way into parliament, they did not know, at the onset of the siege, how long they could hold their position – they announced the following day that they would try to occupy the legislature until … March 21. The movement succeeded in swiftly organizing itself and rallied the support of thousands of mostly young protesters who surrounded the Parliament day and night, forming a human corridor against possible police intervention. The movement lasted well beyond the initial expectations of the student leaders through a conjunction of public support, a high degree of organization, and the inability of the KMT to legitimize with compelling arguments the opaque conditions of negotiations with China, the absence of public evaluations of the impact of the agreements on Taiwan’s economy, and the virtual impossibility of the Parliament (due to the KMT’s legislative absolute majority) to amend articles of the pact or even reject the agreement in its entirety.

The stalemate was total. The students occupied a strategic location, and it was soon clear that the government would probably not use force against them, at least not in the Parliament (force was used to evict protesters when they occupied the Executive Yuan on the evening of March 23). The movement requested a review of the agreement article by article, but also a legal framework to supervise the growing number of cross-strait agreements (25 between June 2008 and February 2014). This was followed by a call for vast constitutional revisions, touching on the core issues of national identity in Taiwan. Ma flatly refused face-to-face debates in presence of the media. Supported by less than 10% of the population (one of the nicknames seen on a poster during the Sunflower movement read  “馬英9.2”) and with poor economic results at home, Ma had found it hard in previous months to legitimize his actions, and met increasing opposition from civil society over an increasing number of issues, ranging from nuclear energy, urban renewal or resentment over active government efforts to re-Sinicize school textbooks.

One man emerged, after twenty days, as a Deus ex machina: Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng – an old competitor of Ma in the KMT. Unlike Ma, Wang was very popular and, most importantly, he was a native Taiwanese, in contrast with the Hong-Kong born, pro-unification Chinese mainlander Ma. Soft spoken, pragmatic and rational, Wang spoke to the students on April 6, asking them nicely to go back home in exchange for his decision — which stunned the KMT of which he is a member — of pushing for a vote on the supervision mechanism before the CSSTA can be reviewed again. Ma immediately rejected Wang’s offer, though while he counts on his party’s majority, he has no power to determine the legislative agenda. And while the KMT can threaten reluctant lawmakers that it will not nominate them for the next legislative elections, the latter will nevertheless fear that after securing their nomination, they might be voted out of office for following too strictly Mr. Ma’s orders on a delicate matter: the CSSTA.

Mr Ma seems very alone today. Though he was never appreciated by various clans within the KMT, who have always viewed him as a compromise option only, it is nevertheless difficult to forecast whether Taiwan’s Leninist party will strip him of his party chairmanship, for fear of an electoral backlash at the next (local) elections at the end of 2014. The KMT charter, indeed, has no mechanism to terminate the term of a chairman before the end of the mandate. And Ma will certainly not offer to resign from this position. However, his credit within the party is vastly diminished, and the announcement by the KMT on the day the students left Parliament they would again try to expel Speaker Wang from KMT is likely to spark a power struggle.

To his credit, Ma refrained from using force against the students in parliament, which paved the way for a more moderate solution. But the solution was not found by him either. Thus speaker Wang, together with student leaders Chen Wei-ting and Lin Fei-fan, emerged as the winners in the conflict against Ma. The president may remain chairman of the KMT, but it is probable that he will be a liability for KMT candidates in various elections in the two years that remain before the next legislative and presidential elections. We cannot imagine Mr. Ma, highly unpopular, endorsing any candidate without making a very “embarrassing” () situation for the latter.

The well-trained group of student activists has won the first big battle in what might well be a new war. Hyper-connected and active segments of the population can now directly play a role in society, in a form of direct democracy that at times forces indirect representative democracy to reform and deepen itself. This occurs in the context of Taiwan’s unfinished democratization amid deepening influence of an irredentist China on Taiwan politics.

The students might already have set the future agenda and shape of politics:

-       negotiations of agreements across the strait could be seriously halted and subject to supervision – otherwise Mr. Ma will likely see many repeats of the estimated 500,000 people who participated in the March 30 protest in Taipei;
-       the independence movement has found a new impetus and, very significantly, a future generation of leaders who will quickly abandon their studies to become professional politicians;
-       a series of new social movements will emerge in the months to come: issues related to social justice, taxes, big businesses, gay marriage, the fourth nuclear plant, and environmental issues…

In theory, these developments should force the KMT to reluctantly share more of its power. It is not, however, its elite-Mainlander pro-unification circle that will do such a policy shift. The key of the evolution is not yet in the hands of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) either, at least as long as its factions, which existed before the students were even born, remain divided. The key to the immediate future lies in the pressure by the civil society, and the Taiwanese legislators in the KMT, the forces on which Speaker Wang can count to counterbalance to the hyper-concentration of power in the hands of “9% Ma.”

This may well be a new phase in the democratization of Taiwan, a process that is far from over. And it is sending a clear message to the Chinese Communist Party: democracy might be constrained, but it is alive and it is fighting back. Taiwan is not China, and you should not imagine that a complacent KMT eager to seek benefits from unification is the only option that Taiwanese are ready to accept. It seems that China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) understands this, as it has acknowledged the necessity of according greater consideration to the opinion of Taiwanese people.

There are now two options that will be tested in the coming weeks. The first is escalation, and is not to be taken lightly. The two sides indeed do not appear ready to make concessions, for three reasons:

-       First, Ma has been extremely reluctant to listen to the students. Immediately after the cleaning of the legislature was completed, police moved in swiftly to barricade the building, which may be a sign that the government expects more demonstrations in reaction to government intransigence;
-       Second, the government at home, as well as emissaries of president Ma abroad, such as former vice president Vincent Siew at the Boao forum in Hainan, claim that Taiwan must quickly pass the CSSTA as if nothing had happened – it appears that China has been more realistic in noticing that something has changed;
-       And third, as said, the KMT announced on the very day students left Parliament that it would appeal the judicial decision confirming that Wang could retain his party membership. If the KMT succeeded in expelling Wang from the KMT (over accusations of improperly using his influence in a case against an opposition DPP legislator), Wang would immediately lose his status as legislator-at-large, and, ipso facto, his position as Speaker. All this seems to indicate that the KMT is not showing any flexibility at the moment.

As far as they are concerned, the students left the scene with an ambivalent feeling: they were happy to go home and rest, conscious that they had written history and probably changed the course of Taiwan’s politics, to great acclaim. On the night of their leaving the legislature, a Liberty Times poll found that over 70 percent of the population believed that the movement had brought something positive to Taiwan. But they were also sour about their half victory on the legislative review of the CSSTA, the absence of consensus on the supervision mechanism (seven versions, including a government-drafted one, are to be reviewed), and the seeming impossibility of redesigning the outdated Republic of China constitution of 1947 that is used to govern Taiwan. The activists therefore left the legislature conscious that they must prepare for future protests and determined to organize themselves politically. And they were extremely angry with Ma, even more than with the “crap” KMT legislators they denounced for blindly following Ma’s orders and abandoning their mission of representing the people.

Immense quantities of material were accumulated during the crisis. Perishable goods have been distributed – many to poor and homeless people. Some artifacts have been stored at two locations in greater Taipei. It is difficult to imagine that students organized to that extent had not foreseen the possibility of reusing such material if and when necessary. Ma understood it probably, or may have not, but is clear anyway that they will come back, especially since Ma is not showing any sign of appeasement. No one should be surprised that Taiwan’s Parliament is now sealed off with barbed wire in a way that, ironically, isn’t reminiscent of Martial Law, because even during that dark period in Taiwan’s history, it was not sealed off this way. The Parliament is now the third public building in Taipei prepared for a siege, after the presidential office — now protected by a military contingent of 500 men — and the Executive Yuan.

“This doesn’t look good on democracy,” a foreign observer noted, referring to the barbed wire.

The second scenario is one of negotiations, compromise, and progressive evolution. Ma’s KMT might ultimately be forced to do so, but it will do so only under people’s pressure or because of a feud within the party. Although the students used careful language most of the time, most of them were nevertheless wearing T-shirts that called for … revolution. This might be a dream of young and idealistic people who do not know what revolution means. But revolutionaries do not always know what it means until they actually make it happen. Deaf governance is planting the seeds of civil disobedience, but if this is combined with the perception that the government is pro-China, and if Ma does not listen at all the warnings sent by civil society, it might lead to further, more dramatic developments.

The next issue the KMT has to face is whether to sue the student leaders or not, and, if they are convicted, to have them imprisoned. The government already declared it wanted to imprison some students “for many years.” But shouldn’t it be left to judges to decide whether they broke the law, and if they did, what penalty should be applied? Mr. Ma’s KMT may be dreaming of doing to the students what it did to former president Chen Shui-bian, putting him in prison and darkening his image in a relentless effort to kill the Taiwan Independence movement. What the KMT does no seem to understand is that doing so will only fuel resentment. The authorities would be well advised to read Ted Gurr’s 1971 acclaimed book Why Men Rebel

To finish with, it seems that there are four conditions for social protests to become a threat to governments: they become regular, their themes vary and multiply, their efforts appeal to and draw the involvement of different generations, and it extends geographically. By being more respectful of democracy, the rule of law and the feelings of Taiwanese society towards unification with China, the KMT could have avoided the emergence of the Sunflower Movement. If the administration refuses to see the situation and to listen to the voice of the people, it is likely that the KMT and its chairman will plant the seeds of many future movements. And some of those could be more radical.

Stéphane Corcuff is a researcher at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei. (Photo by J. Michael Cole)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Here we go again

A day after the Sunflower Movement vacated the legislature, thousands of people we back outside the building, this time to protest police action

Just a little more than 24 hours after the Sunflower Movement evacuated the Legislative Yuan (LY) following a 24-day occupation, about 2,000 people assembled in front of the building on the night of April 11, this time to protest a police crackdown in the morning and an announcement by police that a protest group that has occupied the area for the past four years would no longer be allowed there.

The trigger was the forceful removal of protesters from the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan outside the LY at 7am on April 11 after Zhongzheng First Police Precinct chief Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧) had promised the group at 2:30am that they would not be forced out. The Alliance, which has become a fixture outside the legislature in the past four years, is led by Tsay Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴), a pro-independence activist and civil engineering teacher at Syracuse University and NTU.

As police began forcefully removing members of the Alliance and their supporters on the morning of April 11, Tsay reportedly walked into incoming traffic on Zhongshan Rd. in front of the legislature and was hit by a motorcycle. Accounts later claimed that Tsay was nearly run over by a bus, but video footage of the incident shows the vehicle approaching very slowly, suggesting that the driver had seen Tsay, who by then was lying on the ground. Tsay was subsequently taken to hospital for treatment. (This was not the first time for Tsay; I first met him in April 2010 as he was fighting a case involving an incident on Sept. 8, 2009, when he collided with a car leaving the legislature.)

As they were being evicted, police also announced that the Alliance’s permit to camp outside the LY was no longer valid and that its presence would no longer be countenanced. The move sparked a protest outside the Zhongzheng First Police Precinct on Gongyuan Rd, where about 2,000 protesters gathered from 7pm, calling for Police Chief Fang to step down. Fang appeared outside the precinct accompanied by Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and offered to resign if he’d done anything wrong. At about 11pm, the crowd left the area and headed for the LY, where they launched a sit-in in defiance of the police order. Although the legislature was heavily guarded by police, the 2,000 or so protesters were left alone as activists made speeches.

Protesters gather outside Zhongzheng First District
Although the catalyst was police action against the Alliance, the protest outside the Zhongzheng District Police station was spearheaded by individuals who had played senior roles in the Sunflower Movement, which had occupied the legislature since March 18. While many of the young Taiwanese who took pare in the movement tended to distance themselves from Tsay’s strong pro-independence rhetoric and hankering for self-promotion, sympathy appeared to have taken over them on the evening of April 11. Furthermore, many of them were also probably aware of a recent ruling by the Council of Grand Justices a few weeks ago striking down a clause in the Assembly and Parade Act — a leftover from Taiwan’s authoritarian era that neither the DPP nor the KMT ever sought to correct — requiring police approval for rallies and protests. So once again, government mechanisms, this time the set of laws regulating people’s democratic right to protest, animated young Taiwanese and brought them out on the streets.

A bit of background is in order. Fang has been a regular figure for anyone who has participated in, or observed, protests in the past 24 months. As the C.O. at the scene, the police chief had earned a rather unenviable reputation as the force behind the decision to force out, drag, and load onto buses protesters who were agitating over the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), forced evictions and home demolitions (e.g., Dapu). Fang received a demerit earlier this year — unfairly, in my opinion — for his “failure” to prevent the crashing of a 35-tonne truck into the Presidential Office by a disgruntled former Air Force officer. He was also the C.O. on Beiping Rd. behind the Executive Yuan (EY) on the night of March 23-24 when riot police used excessive force against unarmed civilians.

His bad reputation notwithstanding, Fang did a commendable job on April 1 when Bamboo Union gangster Chang An-le (張安樂) and about 600 of his betel nut chewing nutcases held a protest near the LY, preventing what could have been a bloodbath had the protesters been able to come near the activists around and inside the legislature. That night, I went over to him and thanked him for a job well done — I even commended the work of the police officer who had pushed me and told me to get lost during a protest in front of the PO on July 18, the day that four houses went down in Dapu.

Though reviled, Fang isn’t the one who must go. His boss, National Police Administration Director-General Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞), is the one who needs to step down. Wang’s alleged ties with the Four Seas Gang, one of Taiwan’s main triads, are already grounds for dismissal, not to mention the role that he played in the bloody crackdown at the EY on March 23-24.

So as the Sunflower Movement promised on April 10, the battle continues. Police behavior and citizens’ right to assemble and protest — and the government’s denial of such rights — is now part of the narrative of contention. (Photos by the author)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sunflowers end occupation of Taiwan’s legislature

'We are fighting a war against a state apparatus with massive resources, an authoritarian stranglehold on the executive and legislative branches of government, and a tight-knit organization. This is war.'

Five hundred and eighty five hours after they led an unprecedented occupation of the Legislative Yuan to protest a trade pact with China, hundreds of Taiwanese on April 10 vacated the country’s parliament and were welcomed by tens of thousands of supporters during a ceremony high in emotions.

As promised during a press conference on April 7, the about 300 activists from the Sunflower Movement pulled out of the legislature at 6 pm, ending an occupation that has sparked intense debate within Taiwanese society and attracted the attention of an otherwise indifferent foreign media.

Hundreds of young Taiwanese raided the legislature on the evening of March 18 following a sudden announcement the previous day by Chang Ching-chung, a legislator from the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), that the controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) had been “fully reviewed” and would now be put to a vote in the legislature, where the KMT was certain to prevail. Angered by the move — bickering among legislators had prevented the review from even starting — the activists, who had initiated a campaign warning of the pact’s potential harmful impact on Taiwanese society since its signing in Shanghai in June 2013, decided to escalate by launching the unprecedented occupation.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sunflowers in Springtime: Taiwan’s crisis and the end of an era in cross-strait cooperation

The long-term impact of the Sunflower Movement has yet to be fully understood. But one thing is clear: it will likely have changed internal KMT dynamics and relations with Beijing forever 

With two years left in the second and last term of Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency, Taiwan has been embroiled in a political crisis since March 18 that will have serious, and possibly long-lasting, repercussions on the dynamics within Ma’s Kuomintang (KMT) and the island’s relationship with China. After a nearly three-week-long standoff at Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, a surprise intervention by Speaker Wang Jin-pyng—who has promised to meet one of the key demands made by the Sunflower Movement—has led to an announcement by the activists that they would vacate the legislature on April 10 and bring to an end one of the island’s most serious political crises in recent years. Despite the apparent success of Wang’s move, his intervention risks reigniting a factional feud within the KMT and is no guarantee that the government will proceed in a way that meets the expectations of the movement, which has vowed to punish the KMT in future elections if the Ma administration fails to deliver. 

At the heart of the controversy lies the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) signed between Taiwanese and Chinese negotiators in Shanghai in June 2013. 

My analysis, published today in China Brief at the Jamestown Foundation, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

In defense of the Sunflower Movement (中文 link at bottom)

Musings on the definitions of democracy, rule of law, and why student leaders would be prisoners of conscience if they were incarcerated for their role in the occupation

Aside from shedding light on a poorly crafted and potentially harmful services trade pact with China, Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement has performed an extraordinary, if under-appreciated, service to the country by sparking a necessary societal debate on the meaning of democracy.

Ironically, the great majority of the Sunflowers’ detractors, both in the West and here in Asia, have used “democracy” and “rule of law” as weapons with which to discredit the activists’ nearly three-week occupation of the Legislative Yuan. While conceding the possibility that the movement’s ideals might have been laudable, the critics often expressed strong disagreement with the “illegal” techniques adopted to pressure the government.

Many have lambasted the movement for acting outside the parameters of democracy and laws and argued that the activists should instead have engaged in legal protests outside government buildings. As the Ministry of Justice mulls severe punishments for the student leadership, with charges that could result in as much as seven years’ imprisonment, a number of critics — including people who should know better — have come out saying that young leaders like Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting must face prison for their acts.

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute Blog, University of Nottingham, continues here. (Photo by the author)

New! A Chinese-language translation of this article is available here.

Sunflower Movement leaders could get years in jail

A decision to slap harsh sentences on the leadership would almost certainly spark a new round of social unrest. Will a government known for its vindictiveness and overreliance on the courts to deter dissent resist the temptation?

Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), two of the main leaders in the Sunflower Movement that has occupied the Legislative Yuan since March 18, could be prosecuted on five and six counts respectively, with the most serious offense resulting in imprisonment up to seven years for Chen.

In all, the Ministry of Justice has listed 34 defendants in the case. The charges against Lin and Chen include “Offenses Against Personal Liberty” (妨害自由), “Offenses of Interference with Public Functions” (妨害公務), “intimidation” (恐嚇) and “malfeasance” (瀆職). 

Lin Fei-fan at a court appearance in late 2013
The Sunflower Movement, which has turned into an umbrella organization for various civic groups, launched its occupation in protest against the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which they said had been negotiated in secret with China and had not received proper input from society or review at the legislature. The Black Island Youth Alliance, one of the initial groups, launched protests and public lectures almost immediately after Taiwanese negotiators returned from Shanghai with the text of the agreement in June 2013. The decision to escalate and occupy the LY came after months of government intransigence, infighting at the legislature, and a sudden announcement by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that the pact had been duly evaluated (review had not begun) and would be put to a vote which the KMT, holding a majority of seats, was assured of winning.

A splinter group from the movement also briefly occupied the Executive Yuan on March 23. Overnight police efforts to remove the activists from the building — the seat of the government — resulted in several injuries and accusations of disproportionate police action. Lawyers providing pro bono services to the movement have begun collecting evidence and are expected to take legal action against the National Police Administration (NPA). On March 30, an estimated 350,000 people answered a call by the movement for a mass rally on Ketagalan Blvd and around the legislature. The turnout was well beyond the organizer's expectations.

On April 7 the Movement announced that the activists would end the nearly three-week occupation and evacuate the legislative chambers by 6pm on April 10. 

As the occupation nears its end, there have been fears among the activists and their supporters that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration could seek to punish them severely for their actions, which sparked one of the most serious constitutional crises in recent years. Throughout 2013, the government often relied on the judicial system in an attempt to deter mounting civic activism over several controversies, chief among them forced evictions and home demolitions (even before the occupation, there were several pending cases against Lin and Chen, and a team of lawyers has been helping them with their defense).

There was reason to fear that a harsh punishment might be in the works after Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) commented on the charges on April 8. Luo, who served as President Ma’s attorney during his trial over the alleged misuse of his special funds while he was mayor of Taipei, opined that the activists must face the full weight of the law. “We are all equal before the law of the Republic of China,” she said. “There are no different sets of laws for students and non-students.”

Luo’s remarks attracted derision among supporters of the movement, who were quick to point out the lenient treatment given Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials arrested for corruption or the light sentences given to a group of soldiers who were responsible for the death of an Army conscript in July 2013. Many others also mentioned the inaction by the courts and the NPA since the return to Taiwan in June 2013 of Chang An-le (張安樂), a gangster who had been on the nation’s most-wanted list since he absconded in 1996. Besides engaging in pro-unification activities across the nation, Chang, who was released on NT$1 million (US$33,000) bail hours after his return, has repeatedly threatened social activists, NGOs and politicians and injected himself into the CSSTA controversy on April 1 with a counter-protest to “retake” the legislature, during which some of his gangsters physically assaulted a number of activists from the other side.

The big question now is whether the courts will indeed seek severe punishment and imprisonment for Lin and Chen, two graduate students who were most responsible for the Sunflowers’ non-violent actions against the government. Many fear that Ma’s vindictive nature, added to the loss of face that the movement caused him and his administration, would compel him to make an example of them — not that we’d imply that the judicial system here is subject to political interference from the Cabinet! Should it choose to do so, the government could find itself in a position where it stands accused of holding political prisoners, something not seen in Taiwan since the lifting of Martial Law in the late 1980s.

Conversely, and given the likelihood that harsh sentences would exacerbate social pressures and unleash another round of activism (given the pair’s popularity among high school and university students, such an outcome is almost inevitable), it is possible that the courts would issue suspended sentences or commute those to a fine. Another option would be for Ma, who severely needs to revamp his image after all this, to grant them a pardon in extremis.

Whether society is forced to escalate again and take extreme measures rests with whether it will stick to the promises made to the Sunflower Movement on the handling of the CSSTA and how the judiciary deals with the leaders of the movement. The ball is in their camp. (Photos by the author)

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Disgraced racist pro-unification hater gets a new job

Kuo Kuan-ying, who was fired from his government job in 2009 for hate speech against Taiwanese has been given a new job with the ‘Taiwan Provincial Government’

Ah yes, just as the al-Qaeda-linked mob was about to leave the Legislative Yuan, the government was once again reminding us that the Sunflower Movement will have to be around for a long, long time.

Last week Chang An-le (張安樂), who seemingly stands above the law of this land, made the news with a rather silly appearance at a counter-protest to “retake” the LY. Sadly for Chang — who the authorities tell us was only “passing through” — and the 500 or so betel nut-chewing apes who accompanied him, he wasn’t allowed to get anywhere near the legislative building and to act upon his threat.

Now this week it’s time for another fine individual associated with Chang to make the news. Enter — or re-enter, that is — Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), the miserable little hater who was pulled back from the TECO office in Toronto, Canada, and eventually fired by the GIO, after it was discovered that he was the author of several op-eds that constituted hate speech against Taiwanese. Upon his return to Taiwan, a group of equally exemplary individuals you’d not even trust your turtle’s life with picked him up at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

As it turns out, those fine men worked for Chang, who back then was still busy fattening his Rolodex with members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese intelligence apparatus. It didn’t take much time before Kuo, the fine Chinese that he is, began flaunting his associations with the political party that Chang had founded while in exile in China, the Unification Party, which as its name tells us, is, well, pro unification with authoritarian China. A Taiwanese source who had the great fortune of attending a dinner function with Kuo about a year ago later shared with me how proudly Kuo was telling everybody that he was working for/with Chang — working hard, being in the thick of things, in the middle of the action.

But in the end Kuo, who is also a New Party member, was a loser and he didn’t have a real job. That changed recently, sadly. According to the Apple Daily, the 65-year-old Kuo has been offered a job with the (oh this is delicious) Taiwan Provincial Government. According to the fine official that hired him, Kuo was the “most qualified” for the job (speaks English, lived abroad, has hosted foreign dignitaries, and was the “most senior” of the ten applicants). His job will involve handling cultural artifacts and documents with sister cities, as well as multimedia production (Matsu help us!) and archiving. Apparently the fact that he’s also in bed with a gangster and has about as much love for Taiwanese as one of those Hutus who were busy slaughtering Tutsis by the hundreds of thousands 20 years ago doesn’t matter.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, Kuo, who didn’t lose his 26 years of seniority when he was given the boot in 2009, will be eligible to retire on January 15 next year, whereupon he will be able to collect his full government pension. A pension that the Taiwanese he loves to hate and who are not good enough to be Chinese (as his boss tellingly said last week atop his silly little truck) will be paying for.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Radio interview on This is Hell about the Sunflower Movement

The only ‘training camp’ that they’ve had was the streets of Taipei over the past two years, when they were protesting a number of issues 

Click here to listen to my one-hour radio interview, broadcast live on 2014.04.05, about the Sunflower Movement, its antecedents, and what this all means for the future of this country. (Photo by the author)

Saturday, April 05, 2014

To understand the world, you must engage it

One of the largest diplomatic missions in Taiwan is also one of the least curious about what’s going on here

Yesterday I wrote about the intellectual laziness of Western media and academics, and how this has hampered their ability not only to understand the complex nature of the Sunflower Movement, but also to see the crisis coming. In today’s follow-up, I turn my sights on the foreign diplomatic community, which in some case has been just as complacent.

First, the good news: It’s not all bad. In the past year or so, senior representatives from a number of foreign diplomatic missions based here in Taiwan have turned to local journalists, academics and activists to learn about civic activism. Over lunch or beer(s), I’ve often had the occasion to engage officials on the subject. Sometimes they would even invite me to brief high-ranking officials visiting from the capital. The office that represents my home country here has done this homework; they have left the comfort of their offices and actually went out there to talk with actual people. In other words, they are doing the job that they get paid for. Many other diplomatic missions here have been doing that as well.

In fact, one day before the seminal occupation of the Legislative Yuan on March 18, I was telling a pair of senior officials from the representative office of a certain Western European country that the biggest story in Taiwan in 2014 would be social (in)stability. Both seemed keenly interested, though this must not have come as a surprise to them, as the female representative had been following the issue for a while (I ran into her at the 228 Memorial Day event at Liberty Square a few weeks earlier).

I’d been doing my best to alert anyone who asked that social instability and its impact on cross-strait relations would be the big story for the next couple of years. I knew that because I’d been paying attention to social activism for the previous 24 months and saw the inexorable clash coming. Interestingly, this is pretty much what I told a journalist from the New York Times over coffee in Taipei soon after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) kicked him out of China because his publication had actually done its job there and unearthed some pretty nasty bits about the Chinese government. I told him he was fortunate to find himself temporarily in Taiwan because things were bound to get interesting. To the great benefit of Taiwan, Austin Ramzy has since produced a number of quality pieces for the NYT about the Sunflower Movement.

Now the bad news: the rest of them. One country in particular, whose officials tend to comment most on Taiwan because of the role their country has played in the Taiwan Strait over the years, has missed the boat entirely. Part of the reason why their pronouncements on the Sunflower occupation have been so notoriously one-sided is that their officials’ entire lives tend to gravitate around the office, the nearby drinking hole, and their home. That particular country, which never misses a chance to flaunt its indispensability, has a long, sad tradition of fielding diplomats who couldn’t be any less interested in getting to know the locals, and whose distrust of journalists puts people like me in almost the same category of mistrust as a Gaza bomb maker. Theirs is a bunker mentality, an unhealthy mix of lack of curiosity, a sense of superiority, and masters back home who rarely encourage going beyond the bare minimum (for examples of diplomats getting into trouble for caring and reporting on local events, I strongly encourage people to read Gary J. Bass’ The Blood Telegram).

That country’s inability to see the speeding train of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 coming makes for fascinating reading, and a lot of material about that incident has since been released, including helpful case studies by Harvard University (required reading during my graduate studies on intelligence and political analysis). Back then political officers would have had to visit the bazaar in person and collect cassette tapes from the Ayatollah Khomeini; today all they have to do at minimum is to log on to the Internet and visit the many web pages created by the Sunflower Movement and its predecessors.

A famous former ambassador of that country to the U.N. and to South Africa when Apartheid was still active once bemoaned that very thing: His political officers rarely left the office and were notoriously uncurious about the country in which they found themselves. It’s a rampant problem, not just for staff deployed here in Taiwan. 

One dangerous consequence of this is that this important country often makes decisions that are based on superficial reporting about, and an even more shallow understanding of, complex developments abroad. That’s why a few years ago when Wikileaks started releasing diplomatic cables from that three-lettered office in Taiwan, I’d tell people not to expect much in terms of secrets and content. As a former government employee myself who consumed reams of diplomatic cables, I knew above all the soporific properties of that kind of material.

Dozens of diplomatic missions operating here in Taiwan have turned to me, and others, for briefings in the past two years, in large part to discuss social movements. Not once has the aforementioned mission done so, and as far as I know, it hasn’t turned to its own citizen experts in-country either. Why would they if they already know everything?

We shouldn’t be surprised then if that mission’s official stance on the Sunflower Movement is so despairingly skewed and sounds like it was drafted by the Ma Ying-jeou administration itself. They don’t know what the stakes are, because they couldn’t be bothered to study the root causes of the current crisis. (Photo by the author)

Friday, April 04, 2014

Debunking the myths about Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement

If foreign media and experts had been doing their job, they would known that the movement behind the occupation of the legislature is a lot more complex and resilient than its critics want us to believe 

In the absence of knowledge, fall back on conspiracies. This is what many foreign analysts and the Taiwanese government have done as they try to explain — and more importantly deal with — the activists’ occupation of the Legislative Yuan (LY), which is now on its eighteenth day. 

According to the official narrative, the Sunflower Movement, which on the evening of March 18 began an unprecedented occupation of the legislature, came of out nowhere. After months of circus and the occasional skirmish on the legislative floor over the controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) signed with China in June 2013, young activists acting as proxies of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) climbed over the fence, slipped by the police, and invaded the LY. The student leaders and academics who turned the legislative floor, and then the entire area surrounding the LY, into a sea of placards, banners and posters, were but the continuation of a sinister DPP policy whose sole intent was to prevent the passage of the trade agreement. Incapable of countering the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which enjoyed a majority of seats in the legislature, the DPP had resorted to undemocratic means and “mob role” to try to defeat government policy. 

For many, the Sunflower Movement had been too spontaneous and organized to not have had a structure, prompting one KMT legislator to use the unfortunate example of al-Qaeda to describe the protesters. Hence the belief, held by government officials, the media and foreign observers, that the DPP had orchestrated the whole thing. Only the main opposition party, with its contacts and financial resources, could have achieved such a feat, which eventually led to the occupation, albeit brief, of the Executive Yuan (EY) next door. Or so the story went. 

Dedicated to my love on her birthday, who I think will agree with this.

My article, published today on the CPI Blog, University of Nottingham, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Gangsters ‘just passing through’

Double standards over a protest organized by a wanted pro-unification criminal once again raise questions about government complicity

In the two years that I’ve covered social activism in Taiwan, I have lost count of the number of times when students, academics and even the elderly were pushed, handcuffed, dragged away and taken to the police station for violating the authoritarian-era Assembly and Parade Act, which makes it “illegal” for a group of people to gather and protest in public spaces without obtaining the prior approval of the authorities.

So I’m a bit confused when the Taipei City Government tells us on April 4 that gangster Chang An-le did not break the law during an April 1 protest near the Legislative Yuan because he was just “passing through.” How the ex-convict, who is currently on bail, could have just been “passing through” when the day before he had announced he would mobilize 2,000 protesters to “retake” the legislature, occupied by the Sunflower Movement since March 18, stretches credulity.

But then again, everything about Chang, aka “White Wolf” since his return has left observers scratching their heads; on Taiwan’s most-wanted list since he absconded in 1996, Chang has been a free man, free to appear on TV, to cultivate support with money, open campaign offices for his pro-unification party, and to threaten people left and right.

He and his retinue of betel nut-chewing thugs I would not trust my cat with were just passing through. And in the process they managed to clash with police on several occasions and to snatch a few protesters from the other wide, who they beat to a pulp amid screams of “Kill him! Kill him!”

It’s a good thing Chang was only “passing through.” One can only imagine what would have happened had he been there for real. Once again, the government has a lot of explaining to do. A violent man heading an organization that is clearly doing Beijing’s work in Taiwan, who should be in court if not behind bars, appears to be receiving special protection from the state. (Photo by the author)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Say goodbye to ‘peaceful unification’

The successful occupation of the legislature shows that peaceful unification is a pipe dream. A counter-protest today made that all the more obvious 

Today I saw Taiwan’s future, and I saw its past. Nearly two weeks after the Sunflower Movement occupied the Legislative Yuan in Taipei to protest a controversial services trade pact with China, hundreds of very different people answered a call from a pro-unification gangster to “retake” the legislature, sparking several clashes and showing which side history is with. 

First, let’s look at the future. They are the tens of thousands of people nationwide who have joined the Sunflower Movement to express their opposition to the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which critics say was negotiated in secret and was never properly reviewed by the legislative branch and civil society (which was for the most part was excluded from the process). Since its signing in Shanghai in June 2013, opponents of the pact have raised fears about its impact on the island’s services industry and of the political consequences of opening several sectors — from construction to telecommunications — to investment by an authoritarian regime that does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. 

Opponent of the Sunflower Movement on April 1
The Sunflower Movement, which held a successful protest on March 30, attracting about 350,000 people, came into being following several months of government unwillingness to take input from critics into account. For many months prior to the current impasse, one of the main precursor groups, the Black Island Youth Alliance, had held peaceful protests and information sessions across the country, but was not allowed to attend the public hearings organized by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). While the CSSTA became the catalyst for the events of March 18 and the occupation a week later of the Executive Yuan, the principal cause of the snowballing protests is growing disillusionment with government institutions that Taiwanese feel have failed them and now operate for the sole benefit of a narrow few on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photos by the author)