TAIWAN

Taiwan students fight to shed light on shady govt dealings

 Student protests in Taipei over a controversial trade accord between China and Taiwan turned suddenly violent Sunday night. Students stormed the Executive Yuan, and several hours later, were evicted by riot police armed with water cannons. Our Observer, who joined in the protests, says that students are demanding increased government transparency.

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Photo published on Flickr le 20 by Pulu_tw.

 

 

Student protests in Taipei over a controversial trade accord between China and Taiwan turned suddenly violent Sunday night. Students stormed the Executive Yuan, and several hours later, were evicted by riot police armed with water cannons. Our Observer, who joined in the protests, says that students are demanding increased government transparency.

 

The standoff began when the governing party, the Kuomintang or KMT, attempted to skip normal legislative protocol to hammer through a controversial trade agreement opening the small nation’s economy to China. Hundreds of students, angered by the opaque nature of the decision-making, took to the streets. Starting on March 18, they occupied the Legislative Yuan, the national parliament building in Taipei.

 

Several days into the protests, neither the students nor President Ma Ying-Jeou showed signs of backing down. At a press conference Saturday, the president refused to reconsider the pact or to hold direct talks with the students. A meeting between Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah and Lin Fei-fan, a leader of the so-called “Sunflower Student Movement,” was also unsuccessful.

 

Frustrated by the lack of recognition from the government, a group of students broke off from those at the legislative sit-in and stormed the Executive Yuan Sunday.

 

For the first time since the protests began, the government called in riot police, who responded with force, using water cannons and batons. Since then, social media has buzzed with tweets, Facebook posts, photos and videos showing police trying to forcibly remove students from their sit-in.

 

Dozens of students were arrested Sunday night.

 

Executive Yuan spokesperson Sun Lih-chyun said that Jiang had vowed to hold students responsible for what he called their illegal and violent actions. He also reported damage to the Executive Yuan building.

"It’s not just about China. It’s about transparency, which is an important element in a democratic country"

Gwen Wang is a PhD candidate in political science at Warrick University in the UK. She joined protesters at the Legislative Yuan twice in the past week and has been following the news on Twitter and Facebook.

 

As a political science researcher, I see the protests as marking a political shift in Taiwan. Before, people criticized youngsters as apolitical, but since last year, young people have started to initiate more and more movements. I think that they’ve actually always been engaged in politics, but instead of engaging ideologically – like by joining parties – they do it practically by getting out in the streets. If the government can resolve this current conflict peacefully, I think these young people will be a growing force in shaping politics in the years to come.

 

For example, last year, thousands of Taiwanese took to the streets to protest a lack of transparency in the military after the death of a young recruit. And now these current protests involve hundreds of young people.

 

Some media want to compare these protests with the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street. But those movements were asking for a regime change. Here, the students just want the government to respect existing systems.

 

People have suddenly realized that this pact between China and Taiwan was done under the table. They have no information about the pact and they are starting to wonder how it might affect them culturally, socially, economically…. wondering, if we sign this, can we maintain our autonomy? But it’s not just about China. It’s about transparency, which is an important element in a democratic country.

 

Recently, this movement has been named the Sunflower Student Movement. Last week, a flower shop owner who sent thousands of sunflowers to protesters. He said it was symbolic because he wanted them to shed light on the government’s dealings.

 

There is also a tradition in Taiwan of naming protests like this. We had the Wild Lily student movement in 1990 and, about five years ago, we had the Wild Strawberries Movement.

 

But, since the movement got its name, the price of the sunflower in the market has gone up because of the demand!

 

Article written by Brenna Daldorph.