China · Taiwan

Taiwan’s legislature occupation and its issues

I wrote this over the weekend about the ongoing legislature occupation, but then last night, things got worse when other protesters rushed the Executive Yuan and tried to occupy it, before being kicked out by police. The protest seems to be evolving into unruliness and disorder, and if it stays this way, the authorities won’t be able to stand by.

Something crazy has been going on in Taiwan since last week. Several hundred college students rushed into the legislature last Tuesday, forcing legislators to stop proceedings, and have been occupying it 24 hours since then. Up to now, they’re still there inside the legislature. Why? The main reason was to stop the rushing through a bill that would open up sectors in Taiwan to the mainland and vice versa. The ruling party was trying to speed the bill through the review process, without doing a detailed review that they’d initially agreed to,  to be voted on which would have seen it passed. Rallies have taken place outside the legislation, while the police gather outside, somewhat helpless. Even my Facebook feed has been taken up with links and posts about this event due to Taiwan friends. It seems to be turning into something really big, though of course invading and occupying the legislature is major in itself.

This took me by surprise especially as young people in Taiwan aren’t exactly the most politically active or aware. I’d even say Taiwan youngsters are probably among the most leisurely, sheltered, and narrow-minded in the world. I have to admit that these students’ action was quite ballsy, though foolish, and displayed a passion and awareness of politics, quite unlike the vast majority of their peers.

That said, I have little sympathy, whether for the protesters or the public. The truth is, I really have little hope or belief in Taiwan, but for this post, I’ll try to stick to the issue at hand and leave my extraneous biases for another time.

First, I think the action is foolhardy. I understand the strong opposition to the bill, and the improper way the ruling party tried to rush the bill to the voting stage. The way in which the students chose to stop the proceedings and try to press their demands is unreasonable, but if it was done for a set and short length of time, understandable. The problem is that the students have continued to occupy the legislature, whilst making greater demands that go beyond the original one of asking for the line-by-line review. It damages the very democracy that the students claim to uphold, by using physical force (rushing and occupying the legislature in numbers) and disrupting official processes by elected legislators in the very chamber that they work.
The length of the occupation demonstrates more the weakness of the authorities and the police rather than any strength of the students. In most other countries in the world, beatings, arrests and jail would have already been administered if students had dared to do this.

I also think it’s too little, too late. The ongoing occupation might have finally stirred up discussion and action by a lot of Taiwan people, allowing them to demonstrate in rallies or put up supportive posts on Facebook and other social media, but ultimately the malaise and apathy in Taiwan has been going on for a long time. The reasons why Taiwan’s economy has gotten so weak and has lost ground on its neighbors are varied, of which the mainland is just one factor. However, behind the direct reason for the occupation is an overarching issue.

The overarching issue is the mainland, specifically fear and worries about the mainland in Taiwan. Despite growing economic, logistical and tourism ties in recent ties, there’s been continuous resentment and fear by many Taiwanese about the mainland, such as being united with the mainland. Despite some of it being colored by irrational thoughts, paranoia and prejudice, these negative feelings have built up. Regarding this pact, the fact that Taiwan’s economy hasn’t been doing very well in the last few years has resulted in many Taiwanese fearing that an influx of mainland investment and businesses would swamp and hollow out the local economy. I’d have thought the opposite would be true. While I agree Taiwan businesses, especially small businesses, should be protected to an extent, I think the cross-strait act allows both for more opportunity, for Taiwan companies in the mainland, and for the domestic economy to be boosted.

Many Taiwanese have benefited significantly from doing business on the mainland. Taiwan corporations dominate certain sectors whether it be tech manufacturing (Hong Hai) or drinks and snacks (Tsing Yi). Lots of Taiwan companies and factories dot the landscape in the Pearl and Yangtze River deltas, China’s most developed regions. In addition, besides businessmen, lots of Taiwanese celebrities, academics, professionals, artists and even English-language teachers work and live on the mainland.

Those Taiwan students occupying the legislature and their supporters should really consider this fact. Taiwan has long exploited and benefited from economic ties with the mainland, on the mainland. Why shouldn’t these ties be more two-way?

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