Use of back-channel talks
After two weeks of demonstrations, the leaders of the Sunflower student movement and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration need to set up back channels to discuss potential solutions that will allow the Ma administration to “save face” while allowing the democratic Sunflower movement a public victory.
Back-channel discussions have proven vital for negotiations in history; think of former US president John Kennedy’s administration during its standoff with the Soviet Union.
The Ma administration will lose all credibility if it forces the students to be physically removed and continue to drive through the cross-strait service agreement.
Any more bloodshed from either the hands of police or gangsters will solidify the administration’s place in history as the regime that oversaw Taiwan’s own version of 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Continuing to push through the pact without following up on some of the demands of the “Sunflower student movement” will also create even more distrust in an administration that has already lost public support.
On the other hand, the protesting students cannot expect every one of their demands to be met just because they illegally occupied a government building.
Although what the students have done is commendable in its essence, they still illegally held up the government, which violates the rule of law, a vital pillar of a democratic free society.
The students cannot stay in the legislative building forever and need to find common ground with the Ma administration to reach an endgame soon.
What needs to be done publicly is for the Ma administration to agree to set up mechanisms to follow up on the demands of the movement and allow it to declare victory publicly.
The leaders of the Sunflower movement to publicly “take one for the team” and surrender to the rule of law and face punishment for their crimes.
This would allow the Ma administration to “save face” by demonstrating that its stance during these two weeks was correct for it was protecting the vital pillar of a free democratic society, the rule of law, which the students broke by their occupation.
However, before anything can be done publicly, the Ma administration and the leaders of the Sunflower movement will need to have back channels to discuss how to roll out the mechanisms to follow up on the demands of the movement and how short and symbolic the punishment for the movement’s leaders need to be.
The leaders of the Sunflower movement should be content to follow through as once they are released, they will be seen as even stronger leaders to guide the next generation of Taiwanese and the Ma administration, as well as Taiwan’s largest trading partner, China, should be content to resolve the crisis.
Although one of the core demands in the movement is transparency, sometimes a sleight of hand is needed to allow all parties to accept a solution that is for the greater good.
Joshua Chengyung Fu