The Sunflower movement has left Taiwanese society feeling as if it has survived a magnitude 8 earthquake. It will alter Taiwan’s political and social landscape forever.
This process was created by every citizen who participated in the protests, as well as by our friends abroad. The strange thing is that regardless of how strong the impact of the Sunflower movement has been or how deadlocked we may have seemed at times, the Chinese government seemed completely unmoved, calmly taking it all in from a distance.
However, on April 11, the day after the students ended their occupation of the legislative chamber, China made some mysterious statements.
In the space of just a few hours, Taiwan was enveloped in rumor and conjecture: China is changing its “representatives” in Taiwan; President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is stepping down and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) is taking over; China is asking Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘) to mediate and help patch things up between Ma and Wang; China is giving Ma and his gang a slap in the face; China thinks Ma cannot even handle a bunch of little kids; China is using the protests as an opportunity to tell the Taiwanese that it is easier to deal with China than with Ma and his cronies, all in an attempt at winning over the Taiwanese; China does not need a “representative” here, because all it has to do is open its mouth for Taiwan’s politicians to change focus and dance to China’s tune.
These theories might be reasonable and rational or not, but what we should pay attention to is not conjecture and conspiracy theories based on projections of what China might do. What is even more curious about the situation is that this time, Taiwanese media and the Taiwanese have been more concerned with China’s attitude than at any other time in the past.
As soon as someone in China issued a statement, it was met with a cacophony of commentary, guesses and theories. In addition, the mighty “opaque mother country” on the other side of the Taiwan Strait could change its tune at any time it pleased, which only served to double or quadruple the conjecture and rumor.
Yet as we pointed at each other and said that this or that person stood to gain, there was always the sense that all our rumor-mongering and speculation had unwittingly opened up Taiwan to the voice of Chinese officialdom and invited it to play a starring role in our political wrangling.
The unpredictable, opaque nature of the politics of this situation gave Chinese voices a better vantage point and more leeway than even the Ma administration was capable of, placing it ahead of Taiwan’s political forces and allowing it to gain more than anyone else from the situation and consolidate its position as “big brother.”
As the number of cross-strait agreements continue to increase, this trend will only increase.
The cross-strait service trade agreement has not yet been passed and China is already crossing the water and spreading its political shadow over Taiwan. Can we really afford to ignore the political nature of relations with Beijing?
Lin Hsiu-hsin is an associate professor of sociology in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at National Chiao Tung University.
Translated by Perry Svensson