In the course of the Sunflower movement, we have seen public support of the student activists reach its climax with the mass rally on Sunday last week. Yet we have also noticed some citizens’ growing impatience with the persistent standoff between students and government, along with increasing speculation whether the protesters have begun searching for an exit strategy and what that might be.
For their part, the protesting students have been clear and adamant about the government’s lack of transparency in policymaking in general, and on the service trade pact’s details in particular — even before March 18, when they began their occupation of the Legislative Yuan. Their primary message concerning this issue is to compel the government to retract the trade deal with China and introduce a supervision bill on cross-strait agreements.
Compared with the government’s use of traditional media, students were fast to employ new communication technology to expedite the opinion-formation process through which a civil society can come into force. They had the loudest voice and were skilful in grabbing headline space in social media and traditional journalism to address Taiwan’s dysfunctional party politics and the public’s distrust of China.
The student protesters have faith in the power of public opinion to influence government policies and in this regard they have succeeded.
Their call has been heard in Taiwan and around the world, and was rewarded with a pledge by the Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday that lawmakers will not review the service trade pact until a law that monitors cross-strait agreements is enacted, which was supported from some within the business community, such as by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘).
It is clear that the public’s verdict is that politicians cannot do whatever they want without being held accountable. A majority of citizens have expressed their opposition to the government’s way of dealing with the service trade agreement, with many realizing that economics and politics cannot be separated when China is involved.
Even so, Taiwan’s internationalization and the necessity of the nation’s signing more free-trade agreements (FTA’s) with trade partners remain important issues that should not be overlooked as the student-led movement moves on.
It would be difficult to overstate the likely impact on Taiwan of any delay in the FTA progress, and no one would disagree that Taiwan needs to open up its market to remain competitive and avoid becoming economically marginalized.
Yet people do not need a government that signs FTAs for the sake of it. What the public needs is a government is decisive and has the strategic vision necessary to help enhance domestic industrial development before opening the nation’s door.
The consequences of deregulation concern not just the economy, but also the nation’s democratic values and social justice. The government must know that real wages will continue falling and the number of people holding regular jobs will not rise significantly unless Taiwan first improves its economic structure.
Today, we hope that the student protests can end peacefully and soon, and that citizens, politicians and policymakers can together take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to build a national consensus about Taiwan’s development and core values.