The student protest against the pact with China was sure to anger Chinese leaders — it did. The DPP was trying to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait knowing that its hostile China policy had hurt the party and former chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) 2012 presidential bid. The DPP leaders acknowledged this and were making efforts to fix it. The student protest has undermined this.
The protest hurt the DPP’s efforts to improve relations with the US — also assumed to be a DPP handicap. Washington is promoting a trade agreement with Asia called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. US President Barack Obama’s administration is asking Congress to approve it as a package and not examine and vote on each part. The US wants Taiwan to join. In other words, Obama is facing the same problems as Ma in trying to get a trade agreement passed without it being picked apart and politicized.
The KMT would like to see the DPP alienate the business community in Taiwan — which its stance on the service agreement is doing. Business favors the treaty. Businesses are less likely to donate money to the DPP’s election campaigns because of the protest and the DPP’s role in it.
Protest movements are often difficult to dissect in terms of their causes and aims. Taiwan’s student protest fits this mold.
Obviously the students’ motives are multifaceted. Likely all of the above theories are to some degree correct, even though on face value they seem contradictory.
John Copper is the Stanley J. Buckman Professor of International Studies (emeritus) at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.