For any democratically elected administration, it is perhaps neither a smart nor a justified move to be the enemy of young people, who are supposed to be the future of the nation, and the media, the eyes and ears of the people. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has been able to achieve both.
During the four-day visit by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), the administration used what appeared to be disproportionate state violence against young people who protested the Chinese official’s visit.
In Taoyuan County, staff at the Novotel Hotel — likely under pressure from the national security authorities — raided the room of a group of young protesters and demanded that they leave, citing security concerns at first, but later changing the reason to “providing care to guests.” In New Taipei City’s Wulai District (烏來) and in Greater Kaohsiung’s Zuoying District (左營), the police appeared to use excessive force when they tried to evict young protesters. Eight students were arrested in New Taipei City.
For the second time in the past four months, the Ma administration decided to remove young protesters at all cost so that their voices would not be heard — even bloodshed was apparently acceptable.
On March 24, during the Sunflower movement, in which tens of thousands of young activists protested against the service trade agreement with China, the administration sent riot police and water cannons to evict a large number of activists at the Executive Yuan compound, leaving more than 100 people injured.
While excessive force should be condemned, eviction of protesters is standard practice. The key point was that Ma’s administration and the KMT willingly risked losing the trust of an entire generation.
The implications could be phenomenal.
There are also an increasing number of cases in which the Ma administration has resorted to violence against the media. Despite the administration always playing it down, describing it as minor friction and lack of communication from the police, its infringement on the freedom of the press has risen to an alarming level.
During Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi’s (王郁琦) visit to Nanjing, China, in February this year, the council did not react to Beijing’s denial of entry to a pair of Taiwanese reporters — from Taiwan’s Apple Daily and Radio Free Asia — until the news made headlines.
Before and during the so-called “March 24 Executive Yuan incident” the police dispersed reporters before evicting protesters and also physically assaulted several reporters. In Wulai District on Thursday, the police threatened to arrest a reporter who was covering protesters’ attempt to block Zhang’s motorcade, despite the reporter showing his credentials — issued by the Mainland Affairs Council — and identifying himself.
“So what is the big deal with the credentials?” a police officer said.
On Friday, a Liberty Times (sister paper of the Taipei Times) reporter was allegedly assaulted by a Railway Police Bureau officer while covering Zhang’s arrival at Zuoying High Speed Rail Station.
Throughout the entire Zhang trip, the media have reported that access to most activities was limited and that the Ma administration did not respect the right to report. It would be very difficult for the Ma administration to interpret these events as a sequence of isolated cases. It would also be difficult for the government to say that it did not succumb to Chinese pressure when dealing with these episodes, because all of the incidents were related to China.