Open letter to the Sunflower Movement and President Ma. We fully appreciate the reasons the students took this action, and express our support for the peaceful, reasonable and rational approach they have taken. We firmly believe that the people in Taiwan, having worked hard for their democracy, want to remain free and democratic. They want to determine their own future, and do not want to be coerced by a repressive and undemocratic China.
As international academics and writers from nine different countries, we the undersigned are longtime observers of developments in Taiwan.
We lauded the transition to democracy in Taiwan in the late 1980s and rejoiced when the people of Taiwan moved to consolidate their democracy under former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). We also applauded Taiwan’s quest for acceptance in the international community as a full and equal member.
However, during the past six years, we have on multiple occasions felt it necessary to express our deep concern about the erosion of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Under the current administration, Taiwan has been drifting toward China at the expense of the country’s hard-earned freedom and democracy.
This brings us to the present crisis surrounding the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by the Sunflower movement in protest against the way the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government was pushing the highly controversial cross-strait service trade agreement through the legislature.
We fully appreciate the reasons the students took this action, and express our support for the peaceful, reasonable and rational approach they have taken.
This highly unusual act was the cumulative effect of the broadly felt frustrations with the way the government was making a mockery of democracy by not being responsive to concerns from many sectors of society, not only about the substance of the service trade agreement itself, but also the secretive way the government was attempting to enact it.
The precipitating factor was the highly irresponsible decision by KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠), the chairman of a legislative committee, who declared the clause-by-clause review of the pact completed after 30 seconds, without any deliberations.
This patent violation of the basic principles of democratic procedure galvanized the students into action.
When one talks about the rule of law, then this means a government of, by and for all people.
The students’ actions show in a very eloquent way that the government needs to use the law to protect the weak and to allow those without a voice to defend their interests.
If the government fails in that responsibility and remains unresponsive to those concerns, people will act to restore those basic democratic principles.
As longtime observers of developments in Taiwan over the past decades, we believe that the concerns and anxiety are also prompted by the underlying political agenda.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) obviously perceives this trade pact as a stepping stone toward “unification.”
We firmly believe that the people in Taiwan, having worked hard for their democracy, want to remain free and democratic. They want to determine their own future, and do not want to be coerced by a repressive and undemocratic China.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), we urge you strongly to proceed in the spirit of, and in accordance with, the principles of Taiwan’s democracy, and move toward a much-needed reconciliation in Taiwan itself.
You have built your policies on rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait, but in the process have given PRC leaders the distinct impression that their goal of unification is within reach.
This is a false premise that is detrimental to Taiwan and its sovereignty.
Nobody is against peace across the Taiwan Strait, but peace must be brought about under the clear understanding that China fully respects Taiwan’s sovereignty and the freedom of the people in the nation to determine their own future.
At this point there is little reason to trust Beijing’s motives.
The first step toward a Taiwan consensus would be to follow the lead of Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) who proposed a way forward out of the present impasse.
Failure to respond positively will have serious consequences for Taiwan’s international image, and for the future of democracy and freedom in Taiwan.
It is also incumbent on you, as president, to ensure that the debate is continued freely, democratically and civilly.
Sending in riot troops with sticks and batons against peaceful students is not a responsible way to move forward. Instead it damages the nation’s credibility.
The Sunflower movement shows that Taiwan can have a bright future. The nation can be proud of what these young people have been willing to endure for their ideas and ideals.
Multiple opinion polls as well as the massive attendance of about 500,000 at the rally on Sunday March 30 attest to the movement’s very broad basis of support in society.
It is up to you, Mr President, to show wisdom and willingness to work with the students and other civic groups for Taiwan and its future. The world is watching.
1. Clive M. Ansley, Canadian Human Rights Lawyer and Member, Board of Directors, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Vancouver, Canada
2. Thomas Bartlett, Honorary Research Associate, History Program, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, and Visiting Professor, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan
3. Coen Blaauw, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Washington DC
4. Gordon G. Chang, author, “The Coming Collapse of China, ” New Jersey
5. Elsa Chen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Santa Clara University, California
6. Wen-yen Chen, Professor Emeritus, University of the District of Columbia and former President, North American Taiwanese Professors Association
7. William Cox MD, Nome, Alaska
8. Michael Danielsen, Chairman, Taiwan Corner, Copenhagen, Denmark
9. Rebecca Doran, Assistant Professor of Chinese and Humanities, Reed College, Portland Oregon
10. Brian A. Dursum, Director and Chief Curator, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Florida
11. June Teufel Dreyer, Professor of Political Science, University of Miami, Florida
12. Brock Freeman, American Citizens for Taiwan, Seattle, Washington
13. Stephen R. Halsey, Assistant Professor of History, University of Miami, Florida
14. William T. Hipwell, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
15. Michael Rand Hoare, Emeritus Reader at the University of London, Great Britain
16. Thomas G. Hughes, Former chief of staff to the late Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), Washington DC
17. Richard C. Kagan, Professor Emeritus of History, Hamline University, St. Paul Minnesota. Author, “Taiwan’s Statesman, Lee Teng-hui and Democracy in Asia”
18. Bruno Kaufman, President, Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe, Stockholm, Sweden
19. Jerome F. Keating, Associate Professor, National Taipei University (Ret.). Author, “Island in the Stream, a quick case study of Taiwan’s complex history” and other works on Taiwan’s history
20. Hon. David Kilgour, former Member Parliament and Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific (2002-2003), Canada
21. Paul Kovenock, U.S. Department of State (retired), Arlington, Virginia
22. Steven I. Levine, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana
23. Daniel C. Lynch, Associate Professor, School of International Relations, University of Southern California
24. Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Pennsylvania
25. The Very Rev. Bruce McLeod, former president, Canadian Council of Churches and former moderator, the United Church of Canada
26. Justin Ritzinger, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Miami, Florida
27. Terence Russell, Associate Professor, Asian Studies Centre, University of Manitoba, Canada
28. Michael Scanlon, Associate Professor (Retired), Shih Chien University, Kaohsiung County, Taiwan
29. Christian Schafferer, Associate Professor, Department of International Trade, Overseas Chinese Institute; Chair Austrian Association of East Asian Studies, Editor Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia, Vienna, Austria
30. David Schak, Adjunct Professor of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith University, Australia
31. Michael Stainton, York Center for Asia Research, Toronto, Canada
32. Peter Tague, Professor of Law, Georgetown University, Washington DC
33. Rev. Milo L. Thornberry. Author, “Fireproof Moth, A missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror”
34. John J. Tkacik Jr., US Foreign Service (Retired), and President China Business Intelligence, Washington DC
35. Arthur Waldron, Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania
36. Gerrit van der Wees, Editor Taiwan Communiqué, Washington DC
37. Joseph Weidenholzer, Chair, Institute of Social and Societal Policy, Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria
38. Jack F. Williams, Professor of Geography (Emeritus), Michigan State University, Michigan
39. Michael Yahuda, Professor Emeritus, the London School of Economics & Visiting Scholar, George Washington University