Taiwan’s Flawed Sunflower Movement

On March 17, the Taiwanese government announced that it was ready to ratify the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) with China. The agreement, which was signed in June 2013 but is still pending ratification, would allow China and Taiwan to invest in each other’s service markets. Even though Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has declared that the treaty would increase investment in Taiwan and create more jobs for the youth, the recent events on the island indicate that many disagree with him.

On March 18, several Taiwanese law students began protesting the treaty in front of the President’s offices in Taipei. When violent clashes with the police broke out later that day, students publicized the events through social media, resulting on several thousand civilians joining their cause. From that point on, about 100,000 people participated on the occupation of the Legislative Yuan (Council), an encampment that lasted until April 10. The Sunflower Movement, as it is referred to by the media, argues that a greater economic integration with China would give the mainland too much influence over Taiwan. For this reason, the Sunflower Movement has been calling for the cancellation of the agreement, and for increased transparency in the Taiwanese efforts to improve its relationships with China.

The concerns regarding Taiwan losing autonomy over China are not new: the historical friction between the two territories goes back to the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the Nationalists had to retreat from mainland China to Taiwan. Since then, the relationship between the two entities has been ruled by their disputes over the independence status of the Republic of China, as well as their mutual recognition as legitimate governments. More recently, however, the Taiwanese administration has been more receptive to the idea of improving its relationship with the mainland, and earlier this year Taiwan and China held direct government-to-government talks for the first time.

The interests for Taiwan to improve its bonds with China are not surprising either. After all, Taiwan’s biggest trading partner is indeed China. Moreover, because of its remarkable economic growth, Taiwanese investors find Chinese markets very attractive. In fact, the increasing emigration of Taiwanese residents to Shanghai, suggests that civilians saw the economic charm of China long before the Taiwanese government did. Hence, considering these reasons, the CSSTA proposal would seem like a beneficial initiative for Taiwan’s economy.

The rejection of a treaty that (at least at first glance) would result in mutual benefit for Taiwan and China makes it very clear that the problem is not economic; it is a question of autonomy and independence.  The concerns that this treaty would leave Taiwan vulnerable to Chinese pressure are understandable: The reunification of Taiwan to the rest of China has always been part of the Beijing government’s discourse. Taiwan must be cautious about maintaining its autonomy when dealing with Beijing.

That being said, the rejection of the treaty and the overall Sunflower Movement seems incomplete at best. The cancellation of the agreement does not imply that Taiwan can keep ignoring the importance that China has upon its political and economic life. It also does not mean that Taiwanese investors will join the nationalist movement and avoid the Chinese markets: the scrapping of the agreement will only result in more Taiwanese emigration to Chinese cities, which simultaneously means less capital in Taiwan.

The Sunflower Movement has effectively shown Beijing that the Taiwanese mistrust should not be taken lightly. If Beijing desires to strengthen its relationship with the ROC, it will need to find means to convince the Taiwanese that the island’s autonomy will be respected. However, the Sunflower Movement also represents a problem for Taiwan: It seems to create the illusion that Taiwan does not need China in its economic life. The reality is that Taiwan should keep working to improve its relations with China. Instead of dismissing this fact, Taiwan should focus more on maintaining its autonomous status while negotiating with Beijing.

For now, Wang Jin-Pying, the head of the Legislative Yuan, has promised to establish a supervision act that will bring more transparency to trade agreements with Mainland China. It also proposed to carry out a clause-by-clause revision of the CSSTA. In light of these events, the Sunflower Movement handed the Legislative Yuan back to the government on April 10. Only time will show how much impact the movement really has upon Taiwanese-Chinese relations.

24 comments

  • I brought your essay into a critical review of U.S. media coverage of the Sunflower Movement –> http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/27/sorting-the-english-language-news/

  • In Taiwan, there are more and more students become selfish, and that’s all

  • Thank you for your reflections on this issue, Paula. I do want to point out, however, that the article was inaccurate in describing that concerns (or fears) for economic integration with China were the main reasons driving the Sunflower Movement. In fact, what prompted these Taiwanese students to launch this movement transcends economic issues– it was about protecting Taiwan’s democratic system and social justice. The students protested the Ma-backed CSSTA due to three core reasons: 1) call for due process : the reckless,irresponsible way that Ma’s KMT party had used in forcing through the bill in legislature violated due process and threatened democratic values; 2) national security concerns: the Ma administration failed to explain or address the various potential adverse social and national security implications posed by the Agreement. Such concerns are valid if you consider the 1,600 missiles that China has against Taiwan; 3) distributive justice: the current Agreement may benefit conglomerates that can access the Chinese market but at the expense of the already powerless and resource-less groups in Taiwan. The students justly called that the distributional implications of the Agreement’s impacts across the Taiwanese society should be more carefully analyzed and considered in the policy making process. In other words,the Movement did NOT oppose China. NOR did they oppose open economic ties with China. What they protested was the Ma administration’s unjust, undemocratic handling of an legislation that can have profound implications on the country’s long-term security, stability, and social development. When these fundamental values are at stake, any potential promises of economic integration are only peripheral and dangerously shortsighted. Hence, these students should be recognized for their forward thinking and just causes, rather than being categorized as a group of inward-looking conservatives that remain ignorant of China’s emergence.

  • The US is a Pacific country. Defending Taiwan and having Taiwan as our strong ally are of utter importance for our national security. Losing Taiwan means at least the anti-terrorist network or intelligence is broken significantly. Most important of all, losing Taiwan means Korea, Japan, the Philipinnes are in danger. This means the mainland US is directly exposed to the threat of PRC with dwindling defensive power other than those on the islands of Hawaii and so on. The US should be cautious of PRC’s ambition of conquering Taiwan and expansion and curbs Chinese influence on our politicians. Do not let China buy our national security through money and its influence on our press, academics and politicians and so on, It is utterly stupid for some scholars to sell points of giving up Taiwan or retreating form Asia. The people of democratic Taiwan do not want to be subsumed under authoritarian China. The US can and still have chances and powers to help Taiwan keep its independence and national security by selling more really up-dated weapons, building up stronger economic ties by allowing Taiwan to join TPP and supporting Taiwan to join international organizations such as WHA and WHO. It is utterly ridiculous that the right of 2,3 millions people in Taiwan is continuously denied simply because of PRC’s routine protest. It appears even more ridiculous that our officials keep on emphasizing the contribution of Taiwan in international community in terms of economy, technology, charity and so on without doing anything substantial to support these kind people there. China always bark around warning others not to interfere its domestic affairs The truth is that our foreign policy should not become Only-Beijin policy or say yes to Beijin policy. We should say No to China’s interference to our foreign policy and our relationship with our allies, Taiwan included. We should wake up to change the sick situation and stand up for democratic Taiwan.

  • Paula,
    Unfortunately, you didn’t get a whole picture of the protest even after 30 days of the event. And you don’t bother to read news from day 1 to today.
    The real driving force that brought the protesters into the legislature and out onto the streets, and the force that has seen the public support the movement so strongly, is the growing conviction that Ma cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of Taiwan’s people. The Taiwanese have a basic right to a legislature and a government that represents their interests. Ultimately, it is the strengthening of these rights that holds the key to Taiwan’s continued economic growth, not a services trade agreement designed by technocrats, and agreed to behind closed doors.

  • Dear Paula,

    Must be easy for you to write this considering Taiwan isn’t your motherland…and your motherland didn’t experience an external oppression from a bullying nation. But then again, I am reading an article written by someone who is “irremediably obsessed with China and Hong Kong” and “thinks green is not a creative colour”. FYI, green is the color of my motherland, Taiwan. Green is the color of Taiwanese Independence. Eva Airlines, an affiliate of shipping conglomerate Evergreen Group, was the first airline to make flight announcements in our mother tongue, Taiwanese. Sorry…you already offend a lot of Taiwanese people.

    • Paula Martinez Gutierrez

      Dear David,
      Thank you for your comment regarding my last piece. I would find it very hard to state that my home country is in a privileged situation compared to Taiwan. In fact, I would be very happy to discuss with you the long list of foreign abuses against Mexico, starting from the colonial times, up to nowadays with NAFTA. As a Mexican, I can assure you that I am sympathetic to other nations’ concerns about losing political autonomy through trade agreements.

      This, however, was not the focus of my piece. My piece addressed the idea that economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland are increasing through private investment, regardless of whether or not government agreements facilitate investment. In my opinion, the flaw in the Sunflower Movement lies in the illusion that scrapping CSSTA will decrease (or at least significantly slow down) the economic ties between China and Taiwan, protecting Taiwan’s autonomy. I point out that private investors will target the markets that benefit them the most, regardless of government regulations.

      The Sunflower Movement was wise in requesting a clause-by-clause revision of the CSSTA, and it effectively signaled China that Taiwanese mistrust is huge (something that I also pointed out in my piece). However, I believe that the Sunflower’s focus on Taiwanese-Chinese relations should not be outright closure to trading opportunities, but rather Ma’s administration should ensure autonomy and protection while negotiating. Economic relations as strong as China-Taiwan’s cannot be underestimated like that, and I think Taiwan could benefit most by using that situation as a channel to assert autonomy.

      I understand that the Sunflower Movement also had domestic objectives (namely increase government transparency), which are of course to be applauded. On a personal note, as I myself participated in the Mexican student movement #yosoy132 (also calling for democratic transparency), the Sunflower Movement had a special resonance with my experience in Mexico. From my perspective, the Sunflower Movement is not a failed movement at all, and I am very excited to see its domestic impact in Taiwan. This again, was not the focus of my piece and after all, there’s only so much one can cover about such a complex movement in 1000 words.

      I hope this serves as a clarification to where I stand in relation to my piece. Having said that, I feel that the attacks referring to my personal background are irrelevant to the issue at hand, as I can assure you again that I have no personal interest on this issue. Needless to say, the reference to the colour green has nothing to do with Taiwan, and is simply a joke from a Youtube video that went viral when I was in middle school. As a side note, green is part of the Mexican flag too, although I have never identified colors with nations.

  • Dear Paula,

    I live in Taiwan and have closely followed and blogged on politics here for over seven years. I visit the Legislative Yuan on the 2nd day of the occupation and observed the 3-30 protest. From my direct experience on the ground I can confidently say that there is almost nothing accurate or factual about this paragraph of yours:
    “On March 18, several Taiwanese law students began protesting the treaty in front of the President’s offices in Taipei. When violent clashes with the police broke out later that day, students publicized the events through social media, resulting on several thousand civilians joining their cause. From that point on, about 100,000 people participated on the occupation of the Legislative Yuan (Council), an encampment that lasted until April 10.”

    Where on earth did you source your information for this article?

    • Paula Martinez Gutierrez

      Dear Ben,

      That 100,000 figure is cited from Reuters, which is also cited in the article. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/30/us-taiwan-protests-idUSBREA2T07H20140330.
      Organizers declared up to 500,000, but Taipei police declared 116,000 (Wall Street Journal) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052
      I wonder if you were referring to the number of people inside the Legislative Yuan, which was indeed a couple of hundred at most, according to sources. The 100,000 figure refers to the protests in general. Furthermore, the movement kept building up after that 2nd day you visited. Surely the pictures of the masses featured in all those international news articles were taken after that day.

  • This is a manifestation of the desire for Taiwan to decolonize, to achieve la liberación nacional. This is after 400 years of colonial rule by the Spaniards, the Dutch, the French, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Americans, and again by the Chinese. The most recent occupation by the fascist Chinese Nationalists began in 1948, when a genocidal campaign was waged on the Taiwanese people that would make Pinochet’s regime in Chile pale in comparison. Before I left Taiwan as a kid in 1983, I remember singing songs about the superiority of the Chinese race in school, down to hair color and eye color. My dad was a Taiwanese army officer there in the 1960s, and was flabbergasted that the soldiers were made to goose step and give the Nazi salute. They set up a separate and unequal system where native Chinese in Taiwan would receive social and economic privileges while the Taiwanese working masses were met with a glass ceiling in every public and private enterprise. It took decades of left and anarchist resistance in Taiwan to bring about a democratic system. And as recently demonstrated, the masses are aware of the pitfalls of representative democracy, and are prepared to assert direct democracy if necessary.

    The discourse in Taiwan decades ago was: “whether Japan or China was better to us as colonizers”. The discourse now with this and recent movements is: “we’re done with being colonized and infantilized… the economic elites in both China and Taiwan be damned.” The half-million protesters on the streets of Taipei two weeks ago (out of a population of 23 million) were mostly workers who have bore the brunt of recent “free trade” policies of the pro-China President Ma, who was born in China to an elite family. Ma used his power as the President to secure the Executive Branch, and his dual role as Party Chairman (unheard of in other countries) to control the Legislative Branch. And the Judicial Branch is still populated by life-term Nationalist judges. The President required the Legislature to approve the “free trade” deal with China within 30 minutes. The students and workers took to the streets.

    It’s difficult to get this idea through to Sinophiles and the American Left who have a lot of historical and emotional investment in this so-called “people’s republic”: China has been a bully and an imperialist power for THOUSANDS of years. The desire for Pax Sinica and the appetite for tributary/buffer states has always been a part of the Chinese “Communist” Party’s platform. If you are looking for a country that has thrown off the yoke of Confucianism, achieved universal single-payer healthcare, and regularly puts democracy on regular praxis… in short the true heirs of the Great Revolution, go see it in Taiwan.

  • Hi Paula,

    Thanks for taking the time to write about Taiwan. I think the issues at hand regarding the CSSTA are more related to the violation of democratic principles from president Ma’s administration rather than the true trade benefit of the pact. Taiwan is a young democracy and many of our parents in Taiwan grew up fighting those political battles to bring these values that allow Taiwan to have balance of government. The recent clashes over the CSSTA I think are more related the that gross violation of these rights that Taiwan should have- the right for laws to undergo fair review through a legislative system that the Ma administration pushed through without careful consideration. Whether or not the CSSTA has benefit for Taiwanese people and Taiwan’s economy, I think the bigger issue is the survival of democracy and freedom to protest. I’m hoping the sunflower movement reminds Taiwanese and those Taiwanese Americans/Brown Alumns (like me) how tenuous a young democracy can be especially with the shadow and influence of China.

  • If this is the bottom line – “the scrapping of the agreement will only result in more Taiwanese emigration to Chinese cities, which simultaneously means less capital in Taiwan.”

    You make this assumption based on what? The population migration trend is the other way around. Please do some homework next time.

    • Paula Martinez Gutierrez

      The Migration Policy Institute (a non-partisan think-tank based in Washington DC) wrote an extensive analysis on Taiwan’s migration movements. According to them, Taiwanese emigration to China has become more prominent in the past 25 years, and has outnumbered that of Chinese emigration to Taiwan. Bibliography is included. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/tradition-
      “[E]migration of entire Taiwanese families to North America, Australia, and New Zealand has grown substantially, as has the permanent emigration of highly skilled and highly educated Taiwanese to China. In fact, population transfer from Taiwan to China has come to greatly outnumber that from China to Taiwan”

      “In addition to the traditional destinations of North America and Japan, China and ASEAN countries have become new destinations for Taiwanese businessmen and their dependents. Taiwanese emigration to China is particularly noteworthy. The Pearl River Delta of southern China was the primary destination for the first wave of businessmen and their investments, mostly in labor-intensive industries, from Taiwan in the 1990s. After 2000, Shanghai and its surrounding areas drew the second wave of emigrants and investments — mostly highly educated professionals in the technology industry. According to the 2010 China Population Census, there are more than 700,000 Taiwanese-born residents in Shanghai areas, though it is not clear what proportion have become permanent residents.”

      The research does say that this emigration seems to be “more of a circular migration than permanent migration, since Taiwan remains the permanent residence for most emigrants. Nonetheless, the permanent settlement of Taiwanese in China has seemingly increased substantially in the past five years.”

      My argument has more to do with the idea that Taiwanese investors will not halt their investments (which inevitably strengthen the economic links between Taiwan and China), because of the scrapping of the CSSTA. If the Chinese markets are attractive to Taiwanese investors, I argue that it means little for them whether or not the CSSTA passes. My assumption in that argument is that investors are seeking profit-maximization.

  • 1. a quick clarification: the protestors were not all law students and were not started by law students
    2. you might be right that the fear for political integrations is one main concern. but it is important to note that the actual benefit of the agreement to taiwan has been seriously questioned by some taiwanese economists since 2013. The KMT did try to sell the bill as something that’s mutual beneficial, but many did not buy it. the protest started because many expected this controversial bill to be carefully scrutinized but KMT ignored the popular demand. many joined simply to ask KMT to follow the rule when playing the game. more joined later because the KMT-led use excessive police violence against peaceful protestor on Mar 24. The protest should not seen as merely a struggle against china, but a non-partisan struggle inside the island against the KMT-led govt to protest its young and hard-won democracy.

  • I am not sure the author read the service trade pact at issue. What she refers to as “mutual benefit” is neither mutual nor sensible. For example, Chinese investors can own outright or join in partnership in businesses in Taiwan; whereas Taiwanese investors are limited to part or minority ownership. Further, China can invest in all of Taiwanese sectors whereas Taiwan can only invest in Fujian province (akin to Mexico business investing in New Mexico only where U.S. can invest in all of Mexico) in multiple industries. The key point by the student and majority of the Taiwanese population is not whether Taiwan should trade with China at all; the point is how,when, and what terms should Taiwan trade with China. Ms. Gutierrez fails to consider social, political, and national security factors that play into a trade agreement – thus, the article fails to understand and consider the impact of the service trade agreement at issue.

    • Paula Martinez Gutierrez

      Dear Chaney Dunn,

      Thank you for your comment. Certainly, as a university student living very, very far away from Taiwan, I am no expert on the CSSTA and all its clauses. However, I did read about it in order to write the article, and have continued doing so. Based on my readings about the CSSTA, while your description of the conditions are mostly accurate, you missed mentioning important points that would perhaps provide a more complete picture of the agreement.

      1) Actually, it is China the one that is limited to part ownership in Taiwan. For example, Chinese shares in Taiwan’s publishing industry cannot be more than 50%, while China’s condition to Taiwan is that Chinese investors should retain a leading role.The percentage ownership is not limited. Source: http://www.slideshare.net/ntuperc/englishok Slide 18.

      2) While it is true that Taiwan cannot invest in the whole of China, the agreement is not only about Fujian province. On financial services, Taiwan can invest on security companies in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Fujian. (Taipei Times http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/20… That makes up for three different provinces, and bearing in mind that the three are notable affluent areas, I don’t know if New Mexico is the best comparison. Maybe California, Miami and New York would be more accurate? Moreover, Fujian alone is already four times the size of Taiwan. I am not sure the area of investment in China is all that restricted for Taiwanese companies…

      Having clarified these points, Taiwanese attorney Richard Chiou-yuan Lu, wrote a very interesting letter, translated by Foreign Policy. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/21/… . I believe his letter illustrates in detail the fear of losing Taiwan’s political autonomy through the agreement. As mentioned before, the revision of the agreement and continuous talks with China would be a way to ensure that Taiwanese autonomy is respected. The agreement’s outright cancellation is what I believe would be a poor decision.

  • The author bases her article on several inaccurate or incomplete assumptions. For example, “the scrapping of the agreement will only result in more Taiwanese emigration to Chinese cities, which simultaneously means less capital in Taiwan” incorrect assumes migration of Taiwanese population. The only emigrations are the big business and conglomerates – not the working class and service sector employees. Such big business and conglomerates made their decisions with or without the service trade pact. Ironically, the executives of such business and conglomerates make their home residence Taiwan and not China anyway. Moreover, the author assumes falsely that Taiwan has sought to warm her relationship with China under Ma administration. This is false. Under the previous Chen administration, Taiwan opened “three small opening” on trade and economic ties, which were calculated to take small steps to ensure national security as well as economic benefits for Taiwan. What author refers to as warming of ties must therefore refer to political ties – including Taiwan not displaying its flag (and police arresting people waving the national flag) when Chinese delegation visited Taiwan. I am not sure any democratic countries have ever done that. Thus, in conclusion, the article is based on a false and inaccurate assumptions and logic.

    • Paula Martinez Gutierrez

      Dear Peter,

      Thank you for your comment. Again, the Migration Policy Institute’s research shows that there has been an increase in migration from Taiwan to China, especially with the so-called “brain drain”. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/tradition-
      I completely agree that the conglomerates in Taiwan will make decisions with or without the trade pact. It is precisely for that reason that I argue that the cancellation of the agreement will change little in the economic interdependence of the two nations. Furthermore, regardless of where the executives choose to live, the increasing private interests in both territories cannot be denied, and it is an important factor to bear in mind when discussing how the two nations should continue their relationship. The opposition to an agreement (which, at least theoretically) would stimulate Taiwanese economy and create employment, does mean that Taiwan would -at least- waste an opportunity to increase its capital. Moreover, based on trends (link above), I believe it is reasonable to assume that unless Taiwanese markets become more attractive for local private investment, the outward flow of migration/investment will continue increasing.

      Regarding my comment that “the Taiwanese administration has been more receptive to the idea of improving its relationship with the mainland, and earlier this year Taiwan and China held direct government-to-government talks for the first time”, I was indeed referring to improving the political relationship of the two nations. I would hardly say that holding direct government talks, or opening direct flights means political integration, but I suppose that depends upon perspectives.

  • Thank you Paula for your analysis. However, the main focus of the movement was not about trade with China, but rather to the process for fostering relations with Beijing. The Taiwanese government has failed in communicating the details/process of negotiating the pact and the president didn’t even want his own party to review it., He caused a row in his own party by trying to take out the speaker of the house politically over the issue. Then, the chair of the reviewing committee used a dubious regulation not applicable to trade pacts but rather executive orders, to push the pact straight to the floor. Hence, much of the movement has been protesting “black box” government. On the actual economic benefits, those are questionable. This administration has constantly touted closer ties economically with China will boost Taiwan’s economy. ECFA was signed, millions of tourists from China visit, yet Taiwan’s economy is now lagging behind Japan’s. As for Taiwanese emigrating to Shanghai, one would think that free trade agreements make the movement of capital and personnel even easier. So if anything we’d see faster emigration like Taiwan saw after the signing of ECFA. Even if the CSSTA seems beneficial at the aggregate level there is no proof that it will help the average Taiwanese, but rather just like the United States continue to increase the poverty gap as the rich get richer and poor get poorer. This is all overlooking national security concerns as outlined in this presentation by the head of the Econ department at National Taiwan University http://www.slideshare.net/ntuperc/englishok
    Overall, this movement isn’t over simple economics but rather democratic processes and national security. Taiwanese people know they cannot ignore the Chinese market, else President Ma would never have been elected and ECFA never signed. But, they do want to make sure they don’t get a raw deal and trade more than what they bargained for away.

  • Thank you for writing on the situation in Taiwan, and for your nuanced understanding of the history and issues.

    I believe the Sunflower Movement should be characterized as historic, and inspiring, rather than flawed. The protestors have focused on the fundamental underpinnings of their democratic institutions, rather than near-term economic issues, however important. Hopefully, the results of the Sunflower Movement will have longlasting effect on the vibrance of civic participation in Taiwan.

    Regarding the CSSTA, the Ma administration’s own estimates put the gain in Taiwan at only 12,000 new jobs, with Merrill Lynch estimating a 0.4% impact on GDP. Gains, but hardly groundbreaking. I believe Taiwan would be better served exploring engagement with the TPP and with other nations with as much energy as the the Ma administration has devoted solely to engagement with China. Without having the complex situation Taiwan has with China to consider, even American businesses today are realizing more and more that trade with China is fraught with complications.

    John Tkacik’s recent article in the Washington Times outlines some of the analysis surrounding the CSSTA and also considers our American interests in passing:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/1/tkacik-taiwan-struggles-in-chinas-grip/?page=all

  • As a Brown alum working at the Legislative Yuan on the ground here in Taiwan, I can assure you that we are, including the students, well aware of the need for Taiwan to open up its market, not only to China but to the rest of the world as well. The protesters and 70% of the public only demand an itemized review and an oversight bill to govern agreements with China, be it the CSSTA and those that will be coming in the near future, taking economic or political forms.

  • Nobody is trying to create the illusion that Taiwan doesn’t need China or that Taiwan shouldn’t work on improving its relations with China. Not even opposition legislators. As a long-time scholar of China and Taiwan points out, “Most simply expressed a wish to have more information and more time to consider what was best for Taiwan’s people ” – See more at: http://www.occupy.com/article/inside-taiwans-sunf

    • Dear Paula,

      First, thank you for highlighting recent events in Taiwan that U.S. media has not covered proportionally, considering there were over 500,000 protestors involved, including a 24-day occupation of the Taiwanese Parliament. However, I have to respectfully disagree with several of your points.

      True, many Taiwanese businesses have and may continue to invest in China. However, a central consideration of this student-led protest is the impact on local jobs available to the people, not just large corporations. What will happen to recent graduates when there is a flux of Chinese immigrants willing to work for a fraction of the Taiwanese minimum wage? Will Taiwanese workers then be forced to move to a foreign country with lower-paying salaries and questionable enforcement of human rights and free speech? As a student, I would hardly find this a “mutual benefit” for Taiwanese people.

      That being said, this movement is not an anti-trade or anti-China statement. It is a statement that Taiwan should be wary of deals offered by China. While Taiwanese President Ma (who coincidentally had a low-point of a 9% satisfation rate) has shown increasing friendliness to China, the latter has never once conceeded its dream of annexing Taiwan. On the most basic levels of bargaining, Taiwanese people are unsurprisingly suspicious of this type of negotiation. If, indeed, President Ma and China can convince the Taiwanese people that increased economic dependency on China is a good thing, there would not have been half a million peaceful protestors surrounding the presidential hall that required water cannons and riot police to remove.

      This leads to a third point, that a major part of this movement is about transparency of the government. While an item-by-item review was previously promised and expected in the Parliament, this trade deal was instead passed through under 30 seconds by a congressman heavily influenced by President Ma (and possibly the PRC). After failing to follow due process, the Taiwanese government then proceeded to order removal of medical and media personnel from the scenes of protests. Again, these events make it increasingly difficult for Taiwanese people to trust President Ma and his judgement of what is truly beneficial to the country’s future.

      Overall, thank you for shedding light on the Sunflower Movement, and for providing Brown an opportunity to be updated about this event.

      Respectfully,
      Alice Chuang

      • I would also like to thank Paula for bringing this issue up for discussion here. Like the above commenters, however, and as someone who has conducted fieldwork among political activists in Taiwan, I also have some major problems with the article. The comments above have already made the point that the Sunflower movement was not about “ignoring” China, but a far more complex set of questions about the legitimate means of engaging in cross-strait relations, and about a trade agreement whose effects are very much contested and up for debate. The problem that I have deals more fundementally with the basic background assumptions of the piece; assumptions that are quite common in international media discourse about Taiwan. The first is the conventional one-sentence “historical background” that locates the origin of the conflict in a 1949 “split” and asserts that it was not until 2008 that cross-strait ties suddenly improved. The dispute has not always been about “autonomy”, at least for not all of the actors concerned. The problem of “autonomy” only makes sense within a narrative centered on the PRC, and the position that unification is either imperative or inevitable. All Taiwan can do, so the story goes, is maintain greater or lesser degrees of autonomy. Political narratives within Taiwan, however, are much more complex, and have undergone major historical shifts not easily summarized by terms like “democratization.” It is important to remember that prior to 1991, the official discourse of the ROC government in Taiwan was that it was the true government of China (symbolically) committed to “recovering” the mainland from a “communist rebellion”. To this end, legislators elected on the mainland in 1947 were frozen in place on Taiwan for decades. Legitimacy to represent China (rather than autonomy vis-a-vis the PRC) was the operating framework. It was only in the 1990s that political reform turned offices and institutions representing China into those effectively representing Taiwan. In other words, there was a transformation in the very imaginary of what the political community was occuring at the same time there was increasing cross-strait economic exchanges. This is not even to mention the fact that a Chinese Civil War-narrative overlooks other narratives that exist in Taiwan. For example, this includes the narrative that imagines Taiwan’s recent past in terms of a struggle against an authoritarian state. From this standpoint, the prospect of integration with the PRC is seen through the lens of having already emerged from a struggle to push forward a Taiwan-centric political imagination in contrast to one focused on China (as was the case under state nationalism during the Cold War).
        Even the current framework in which deals like ECFA and the current agreement have been negotiated under is based on a conceit, still held by the Ma government, that Taipei can interact with the mainland “as if” the mainland still belonged to the ROC as defined in the constitution. According to this legalese, Paula would be politically incorrect to talk about “China” and “Taiwan” as seperate entities since it would violate the “one China.” This is not a small issue because it is precisely this framework of deliberate ambiguity that is not only the basis of cross-strait relations in the present, but also the very basis of a number of anxieties within Taiwan about its status.
        One does not have to take a position on which of these positions is more “correct” in order to recognize the reality of political difference in Taiwan. This difference is not reducible to mere issues of policy vis-a-vis China (or mainland China if you so prefer), but to some of the fundemental ways the entire situation is imagined and affectively felt. To put it simply, some of the activists I met and the perspectives of the current administration are in different worlds. The current government simply does not recognize alternative politics in Taiwan as anything else than misunderstandings and errors. The Sunflower movement cannot be flawed because it has demonstrated an important fact, that the cross-strait dispute is based on fundamental issues that go beyond the technicalities of a trade agreement (notwithstanding debates over its impacts).

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