Unlike other international media outlets covering the student occupation of the legislative chamber, all of which have been reporting the students’ opposition to the cross-strait service trade agreement, CNN has instead focused upon what these events mean for the “demise” and the “rebirth” of democracy in Taiwan. This is the main significance of these protests.
The students have never said that they are opposed to the trade pact per se. They have made it clear that what they are opposed to is the lack of transparency and the arbitrary manner in which the government and the legislature has dealt with an agreement of this significance that has been signed with China and how this goes against the wishes of the public, all of which drove the protesters to resort to the occupation of the legislative chamber.
What kind of government thinks to conduct an impact assessment for an agreement signed with another nation only after pen has been put to paper? The premier — an unelected government official — had the gall to declare to the world that the legislature — which is composed of elected public representatives — does not have the power of veto over the agreement. Even more preposterously, these elected legislators had the audacity to blindly follow the party line and sabotage the opportunity to conduct a line-by-line review of the agreement, in what was a blatant dereliction of duty.
Any doubts that the public may have had about the agreement could have been dispelled by such a review, which would have enabled Taiwanese to understand the arguments for and against it and explained what measures the government was proposing to mitigate the pact’s impact upon the service sector. People could have discussed which clauses are acceptable and which of them are cause for concern, all of which could have helped the government’s argument.
Instead, the nation’s leaders adopted the opposite approach, obstinately and autocratically insisting on passing the pact come what may; it ignored the importance of democratic participation and the need for a review. All it achieved was to deepen the public’s suspicion of a collusion between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party.
Ever since the KMT returned to power in 2008 and with the intensifying of cross-strait exchanges, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been saying that the changes have promoted democracy in China. Instead, the reverse has been true; Taiwan has seen a regression of democracy and human rights.
When China’s former Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) first started coming to Taiwan, the suppression of peaceful demonstrations against him gave rise to the Wild Strawberry Student Movement. This was followed by the student protest movement against media monopolies as a reaction to the Want Want China Times Group’s attempted acquisition of the cable TV services operated by China Network Systems.
These movements came about due to fears of the erosion of freedom of expression, and things came to a head with the occupation of the Legislative Yuan — the biggest student movement since the Wild Lilies action in 1991 — which was necessitated by the government’s direct attack on the democratic system through Ma’s order — and the KMT legislators’ compliance — that the lawmakers use their majority in the house to make sure the agreement passes.