Nothing has shown the paternalist mentality and hypocrisy of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as clearly as its handling of the cross-strait service trade pact and its reaction to the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by students.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said on Thursday that the protesters’ understanding of the pact was based on “groundless rumors” and “defamation.” Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien (王建煊) has talked about the “ignorance” of the students, who he has said do not realize that they are being used by politicians. Wang was also worried that the protesters were simply copying what they have seen lawmakers do: scuffling, spraying water, taking over the podium in the legislative chamber and blocking the doors to the entrance of the room.
Meanwhile, the head of the General Chamber of Commerce and a consultant with the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce said the students might be too young to be able to understand properly the international economic situation or the pact, which will not directly affect them.
These leaders think the students and activists are too young and too ignorant to have opinions on a weighty matter such as the trade pact, and that they should just return to their books and let their elders make all the decisions.
What they have forgotten — or are ignoring — is that it is the young people of this nation who will be impacted the most by the service trade agreement, although Wang said without irony on Wednesday that “Taiwan is spiraling downward. Young friends, do you have a future?”
It is the future of this nation that the protesters are most concerned about. They say the trade pact threatens the survival of small and medium-sized enterprises, farmers and businesspeople, which will severely damage the economy and will leave the nation even more vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing.
The protesters — who have tried to remain apart from the established political parties — are tired of the political posturing and maneuvering generated by the long-standing blue-green divide that has made the Legislative Yuan internationally famous for its brawls, as opposed to its accomplishments. They are tired of the government’s constant refrain that it knows best and the public should not worry about what deals it reaches with China because it has their best interests at heart, even as it stage-manages the “public hearings” on the trade pact and manipulates media coverage of it.
The KMT claims the service trade agreement is an economic matter, not a political issue, but its handling of the pact has been very political — even undemocratic. What the young protesters know all too well is that the future is looking bleak. Wages have been stagnant for more than a decade, more companies are offering entry-level jobseekers a monthly wage of just NT$22,000, consumer prices are rising annually and every year the cost of buying a home, especially in the Greater Taipei area, grows further out of the reach of most young couples. In addition, they have seen a creeping invasion of pro-China content in the nation’s news media and broadcasting in recent years.
Attempts to portray the demonstrators as rioters and vandals are belied by photographs and video coverage, even if a Legislative Yuan official said yesterday that it might take up to a month to “repair” the damage caused by the protesters. The effort to portray them as unrepresentative of mainstream public opinion is belied too by the support that has come from around the nation for them, be it food, drink or expressions of support on Facebook.
Today’s youth are repeatedly told that they are apathetic, perhaps even undeserving of the hard-won democratic benefits won by older generations. The protest at the Legislative Yuan shows how far from the truth that is. Wang asked them if they have a future. They are showing that they believe they do, just not the one the KMT would like to implement.