The fast-moving events of the past few days are forcing everyone in Taiwan to ask themselves: What side am I on? How Taiwanese answer this question will be crucial for the future of the country.
On one side, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) wants to push Taiwan closer to China not only economically, but also politically. During the past few days, Ma has tried hard to force the Legislative Yuan to pass the cross-strait service trade agreement that his administration signed with China on June 21 last year.
Ma and his administration are trying to make it appear as if the trade agreement is beneficial for Taiwan, and without it, the Taiwanese economy will go downhill. That is simply false. Ma is putting all his eggs in one (Chinese) basket, which at some point will have disastrous consequences for Taiwan. Rather than making the economy more dependent on a repressive China, Taiwan needs to diversify its trade options.
On the other side we see the students and their supporters occupying the Legislative Yuan, They are national heroes as they have stood up against the manipulative tactics of a government that really does not care about democracy, tries to keep itself in power, and is not interested in doing a fair and balanced assessment of the trade agreement. Ma simply wants to pass the agreement, no matter what the cost is to Taiwan and its democracy.
These students are making a big difference for the nation and its future, because this issue is bigger than just the passage of the trade agreement. The real issue is what kind of society Taiwan wants to be. Does it want to maintain its hard-won democracy, freedom and independence? Or does it want to drift into a Hong Kong-like dependency on China?
If Taiwan continues to follow the prescriptions of the Ma government, then “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” will be increasingly threatened by an oppressive Chinese government. Taiwanese have a choice, and need to decide which side they are on.
Are they going to stand up for what is right — as the students are doing now — or will it be business as usual?
As Taiwanese-Americans who have worked hard for Taiwan’s transition to democracy in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, we care deeply about Taiwan and its future, and we fully support the students and their peaceful occupation of the legislative chamber. This was a tough, but necessary move designed to tell the government: “Stop, we’ve had enough.”
We hope that a great majority of Taiwanese will choose the right path for the future of the nation and express their support for those brave students. This is a crucial moment in Taiwan’s history, and we want to be able to tell our children and grandchildren: “I was there when Taiwan needed me.”
Mark Kao is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington.