For those who have long complained about the seemingly apathetic Taiwanese youth on matters of politics, the past two weeks must have had elements of both surprise and relief, with two large student mobilizations taking place in two cities on two different continents: London and Taipei.
The catalyst in both instances was injustice — the removal, following official complaints by China, of the Republic of China (ROC) national flag at a non-Olympic venue in London, and the creation of a pro-China media monster through the acquisition by the Want Want China Times Group of China Network Systems’ (CNS) cable TV services, and the subsequent threat of lawsuits by a Want Want employee against a student.
Hundreds gathered on Regent Street in London, proudly showing the ROC flag, while about 700 protested in front of the CtiTV building in Taipei, calling for freedom of speech to be respected. In stark contrast to the protests organized by the pan-green camp, where the majority of participants are usually above the age of 50, those two events involved students and young professionals who were educated, connected and angry. They were, in essence, the same type of people who took to the streets earlier this year when two houses were flattened in a suburb of Taipei to make way for an urban renewal project; or those who turned up in large numbers to confront police and contractors when farmland was seized to accommodate large-scale industrial projects.
Issues of justice, rather than abstracts of ethnicity or nationality, are what lights the fire in the belly of Taiwanese youth today. For them, the past is in the past and the issue of who they are has already been settled; what they look to is the future and the uncertainties created by injustice. That is why one can hardly find anyone below the age of 30 at protests against, say, the so-called “1992 consensus,” but thousands will roll up their sleeves when someone’s property is threatened by state rapacity.
All of this occurs at a time when policymaking within the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration appears to have been taken over by an old, conservative wing of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), while moderates in the pan-blue camp have grown largely silent.
Under Ma, the rich and powerful are becoming richer and more powerful, and more often than not, that wealth derives directly from backroom deals with China. Want Want China Times chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), Taiwan’s richest man and a Tiananmen Massacre denier (there are audio tapes to prove it), has amassed great wealth through his dealings with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He has used his media to target — no, slander — opponents of the CNS takeover, ordinary people who apprehend the excesses of unchecked power and who are concerned about the future of freedom of speech in their country.
Furthermore, those behind-closed-doors deals are struck by former KMT secretaries-general and other elderly figures like Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) who not only are unaccountable to the public, but also seem to agree with their CCP counterparts that the public has no say in the direction their country should take.
While a few continue to enrich themselves, salaries remain stagnant, jobs are not created and the economy is contracting. On the political side, the Ma government failed to stand up to Chinese suppression of Taiwan in London and once again this week transparently used its influence on the judiciary, this time in Chiayi County, to distract the public from an embarrassing corruption scandal involving a former Executive Yuan secretary-general.
Taiwan’s youth are increasingly paying attention to what is going on around them and they do not like what they see. The point where they say enough is enough, when they realize that cynical old figures are compromising their future, could be at hand. What happens next remains to be seen, but the elderly ones could be in for a surprise.
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