Tuesday evening March 18, more than 300 Taiwanese students and protesters occupied the Taiwanese parliament. Today, the parliament is still occupied and thousands of people are gathered outside the parliament. Late this afternoon, students entered the Executive Yuan as a response to what they consider as a lack of sincerity in the government response to the current events.
By Michael Danielsen, chairman of Taiwan Corner
Tuesday evening March 18, more than 300 Taiwanese students and protesters occupied the Taiwanese parliament. Today, the parliament is still occupied and thousands of people are gathered outside the parliament.
Late this afternoon, students entered the Executive Yuan as a response to what they consider as a lack of sincerity in the government response to the current events.
These events comes as a reaction to how the Taiwanese government and the Chinese Nationalist Party’s parliamentarians have handled the negotiations and ratification of the service pact agreement between Taiwan and China. The agreement is about the service industry and was signed last summer but has been stalled in the parliament since.
The demonstrators are not alone in their criticism of the government. 71 % of the Taiwanese lack confidence in their government’s handling of the negotiations with China, and President Ma’s popularity is down to 9%.
The protest shows that the international community should not be blinded by the friendly tones between Taiwan and China at the government level. When demonstrators occupy the parliament, it comes as a reaction to a long felt frustration among the Taiwanese regarding the direction of their society.
Moreover, the protest is not only related to latest service pact agreement between Taiwan and China. The protest is directed much broader which includes the democratic development in Taiwan. This is seen from the demands from the demonstrators.
The trigger that started the occupation of the parliament was the skipping of the promised the line-by-line review of the service pack agreement. Instead, KMT decided on Monday March 17 to send the agreement to the plenary session for a vote.
The ratification has been stalled in parliament since last summer and even KMT parliamentarians are in doubts about the benefits promised in the agreement. The agreement is about the service industry and it will allow Chinese to set up for instance laundries and hair salons in Taiwan in direct competition with the hardworking Taiwanese and provides an asymmetrical access to the print industry. Critics point out that the agreement lacks an arbitration mechanism and that the negotiations were not transparent. Moreover, the agreement will benefit the Chinese more than the Taiwanese and it will make Taiwan even more dependent on China. This is contested by the government which believes that Taiwan’s service industry will get huge benefit in China. The contents of the service pact agreement is well explained here: China Trade Deal Raises Hackles in Taiwan
The position of President Ma can be read from the transcripts of president Ma’s talk at the press conference Sunday March 22 which can be found here…
Demand from the demonstrators
The demonstrators have listed a number of demands. These demands show that the demonstrators’ goal is an improvement of the democratic process. They demand that the service pact agreement is rejected and there is found a formulation of a monitoring mechanism for the negotiation with China within the current legislative session. And they want an improved transparency in the negotiations with China.
Their demands have not been fulfilled by the deadline set by the demonstrators. Consequently, they will continue the occupation and they will gather people to stage sit-in protests around local KMT chapters and KMT legislative offices to increase the pressure on the president according to their press release.
Protest leader met with the premier
The protest leader Lin Fei-fan met with the Taiwanese premier Jiang Yi-huah on Saturday March 22. The meeting ended with no result. This meeting is well described here: Occupy the Legislature: Jiang Yi-huah v. Lin Fei-fan
The relaxed security around the meeting shows that both parties consider this as a peaceful demonstration.
The opposition party, DPP
The student groups and others who takes part in the demonstration and the occupation of the parliament prefer to stay political neutral. They do not want to be seen as connected to a political party. This is a balancing act for both the demonstrators and for the largest opposition party, the DPP. The DPP can easily been seen as wanting to benefit from the demonstration and occupation, and the demonstrators can make statements that could interpreted as an alignment with the DPP. If this balancing act fails, some points out, the student groups and others risk losing their public appeal.
For this reason, when the DPP is present around the parliament building and member of the party is found among the demonstrators, they keep a distance to the events.
The DPP’s position on the matter is
1) President Ma must immediately apologize and promise not to commit this mistake again;
2) The KMT must respect the negotiation procedure at the Legislative Yuan, in which a deal was made between the KMT and the opposition parties, and according to their initial promises of reviewing the agreement item by item, they must immediately now fully agree to renegotiate the agreement.
3) The police must absolutely not take any violent action against student groups expressing their opinions and ensure for their protection and safety.
DPP’s position can be found here
Taiwan Corner’s position
We in Taiwan Corner find the service pact agreement unfavorable to Taiwan’s society and economic development and it benefits China’s goal of making Taiwan more dependent on China. On several occasions, we have criticized the democratic transparency associated with this and the other agreements. Moreover, the ECFA agreement has not been signed in WTO and the agreement therefore challenges Taiwan’s current and hard won international sovereignty.
The agreement should be treated as an agreement in WTO and given proper approval in the parliament line-by-line.
References to articles that provide an overview of the events and live streaming
The Diplomat: Overview of the start of the occupation
IPS : China Trade Deal Raises Hackles in Taiwan
BBC: “Protestors Occupy Taiwan Parliament Over China Trade Deal”
CNN: “Hundreds of Students Occupy Taiwan’s Legislature to Protest China Pact”
Savage Minds: Sunflower Student Movement
The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato: Meeting between premier and protest leader: Jiang Yi-huah v. Lin Fei-fan
New York Times: “Opponents of China Trade Deal Occupy Taiwan’s Legislature”
University of Nottingham China Policy Institute:“Occupy the Legislature: Is It the Only Way?”
Ketagalan Media http://www.ketagalanmedia.com/
Amnesty International Press Release: “Taiwan: Restraint Urged in Protests Over China Trade Deal”