The US and China are the two most significant countries when it comes to the continued survival and security of Taiwan. The US is an important ally, while China is a major threat. The governments of both countries have announced that they are paying close attention to the demonstrations that have been triggered by the cross-strait service trade agreement.
The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), has used violence to suppress a peaceful sit-down protest, but what effect have the protests had on the government of the nation? This is something that the public should know more about.
Ma’s attitude at the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday last week gives a hint. Amazingly, Ma, the man at the center of storm, continues to say that the administration’s handling of the service trade agreement has not been lacking in transparency. He continues to defend himself against criticism and refuses to admit any errors of judgment.
This is significant for two reasons. The government has clearly not adopted the “equidistant” diplomacy that would benefit Taiwan, but has instead once again shown that it is leaning more toward China and is distancing itself from the US.
The second reason it is important is that both the US and China may be disappointed: There is no possibility of a constructive resolution to the current political stalemate on the horizon.
This is the current state of the impasse: The students continue to occupy the legislative chamber, the party negotiations overseen by the legislative speaker have broken down again due to the three conditions handed down by the KMT’s caucus whip — which have been decreed by the party center — and the meeting between the president and the students ran aground because Ma has not showed any interest in listening to dissenting opinion.
The issue of excessive and illegal use of force by police and the Ma administration’s persistent obstinacy and pervasive confusion has not only hurt the nation’s image, but public trust in the government has also suffered, which may be difficult to restore. All these problems have the same origin: Ma has caused every conflict-resolving mechanism to grind to a halt.
Why does the nation find itself in this situation? First, let’s take a look at how other countries have reacted to the student movement.
The basic approaches of the US and China vary greatly. On March 24, US Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “We certainly support Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, which allows for this kind of robust political dialogue on a range of issues... We hope that the discussion can be conducted peacefully and civilly.”
On Wednesday last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) expanded on several issues. First was that unification would be good for both sides, while separatism would be bad, and that no “compatriots” on either side of the Taiwan Strait want to see progress in cross-strait economic cooperation disrupted.
The second was an address to the concerns that a large number of Chinese workers will enter Taiwan and that it would only require 48,000 yuan (US#7,720) for them to immigrate.
The third was to say that the reason for opposition to the trade agreement “would have to be found within Taiwan.”
This shows that being one of the organizations concerned with the agreement within the Chinese government apparatus is different from being part of Beijing’s overall propaganda machine.
The Chinese government’s mouthpieces demand that the agreement be accepted unchanged or not at all, while the official government organizations concerned with the agreement take a softer approach in order to weaken resistance.
This type of approach makes it clear that the agreement brings more advantages than disadvantages to China and that Beijing therefore needs it to be ratified. The TAO’s statement that the problem lies within Taiwan is a strong hint of dissatisfaction and frustration with Ma.
One party says that Taiwan should decide on the trade agreement and expresses hope that Ma will open up dialogue and handle the issue peacefully and civilly rather than use violence against unarmed protesters.
The other party has made it clear that it will not accept any “interference” with the agreement, which of course means that they do not want the agreement to be withdrawn or renegotiated, and that they want it passed and the issue settled once and for all.
These two forces swaying Ma are the reason that one day he said that he would meet with the students, and the next argued that there was no lack of transparency in the handling of the agreement. These conflicting actions make it clear that he does not know how to cope with the predicament he finds himself in. Overall, it is clear that China has more pull on Ma than the US.
The legislature is in pandemonium because Ma has forced the public to protest against the trade agreement. Now that the conditions for forcing through the agreement no longer exist, the issue should be resolved by the legislature, but since the lines of communication between the KMT and the opposition parties have been severed, that will take a long time.
Furthermore, as of Wednesday last week, the KMT Central Standing Committee still ignored the students’ demands — based on false information, which only served to extend the dispute and delay the legislature’s return to normal.
China may want the service trade agreement to be passed through the Taiwanese legislature without a single change, but it has now found that it has been relying on the wrong person to carry through that wish.
At this crucial moment in time, the question of whether Taiwan and China will go through with far reaching economic integration has created a vast gulf between generations. This long-standing point of contention has now erupted and can no longer be contained.
It has even attracted international attention, with both the US and China feeling that they must get involved. These developments show that communities are globally connected, and this will not change just because little Taiwan does or does not obtain international recognition.
Business Week magazine recently compared Ma with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, saying that both of are closely linked to a powerful neighbor.
This may be the Western point of view, but it would be more appropriate to say that the Ma administration is beleaguered on all sides.
This is why, as a member of the global community, Taiwan must safeguard its public’s right to be master of their own nation and guarantee that its people are not stripped of freedom of expression.
The people must never give up their destiny or allow others to walk all over them.
Translated by Perry Svensson