As international academics and writers from nine different countries, we the undersigned are longtime observers of developments in Taiwan.
We lauded the transition to democracy in Taiwan in the late 1980s and rejoiced when the people of Taiwan moved to consolidate their democracy under former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). We also applauded Taiwan’s quest for acceptance in the international community as a full and equal member.
However, during the past six years, we have on multiple occasions felt it necessary to express our deep concern about the erosion of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Under the current administration, Taiwan has been drifting toward China at the expense of the country’s hard-earned freedom and democracy.
This brings us to the present crisis surrounding the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by the Sunflower movement in protest against the way the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government was pushing the highly controversial cross-strait service trade agreement through the legislature.
We fully appreciate the reasons the students took this action, and express our support for the peaceful, reasonable and rational approach they have taken.
This highly unusual act was the cumulative effect of the broadly felt frustrations with the way the government was making a mockery of democracy by not being responsive to concerns from many sectors of society, not only about the substance of the service trade agreement itself, but also the secretive way the government was attempting to enact it.
The precipitating factor was the highly irresponsible decision by KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠), the chairman of a legislative committee, who declared the clause-by-clause review of the pact completed after 30 seconds, without any deliberations.
This patent violation of the basic principles of democratic procedure galvanized the students into action.
When one talks about the rule of law, then this means a government of, by and for all people.
The students’ actions show in a very eloquent way that the government needs to use the law to protect the weak and to allow those without a voice to defend their interests.
If the government fails in that responsibility and remains unresponsive to those concerns, people will act to restore those basic democratic principles.
As longtime observers of developments in Taiwan over the past decades, we believe that the concerns and anxiety are also prompted by the underlying political agenda.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) obviously perceives this trade pact as a stepping stone toward “unification.”
We firmly believe that the people in Taiwan, having worked hard for their democracy, want to remain free and democratic. They want to determine their own future, and do not want to be coerced by a repressive and undemocratic China.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), we urge you strongly to proceed in the spirit of, and in accordance with, the principles of Taiwan’s democracy, and move toward a much-needed reconciliation in Taiwan itself.
You have built your policies on rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait, but in the process have given PRC leaders the distinct impression that their goal of unification is within reach.
This is a false premise that is detrimental to Taiwan and its sovereignty.
Nobody is against peace across the Taiwan Strait, but peace must be brought about under the clear understanding that China fully respects Taiwan’s sovereignty and the freedom of the people in the nation to determine their own future.
At this point there is little reason to trust Beijing’s motives.
The first step toward a Taiwan consensus would be to follow the lead of Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) who proposed a way forward out of the present impasse.
Failure to respond positively will have serious consequences for Taiwan’s international image, and for the future of democracy and freedom in Taiwan.
It is also incumbent on you, as president, to ensure that the debate is continued freely, democratically and civilly.
Sending in riot troops with sticks and batons against peaceful students is not a responsible way to move forward. Instead it damages the nation’s credibility.
The Sunflower movement shows that Taiwan can have a bright future. The nation can be proud of what these young people have been willing to endure for their ideas and ideals.
Multiple opinion polls as well as the massive attendance of about 500,000 at the rally on Sunday March 30 attest to the movement’s very broad basis of support in society.
It is up to you, Mr President, to show wisdom and willingness to work with the students and other civic groups for Taiwan and its future. The world is watching.
Clive M. Ansley
Gordon G. Chang
Brian A. Dursum
June Teufel Dreyer
Stephen R. Halsey
William T. Hipwell
Michael Rand Hoare
Thomas G. Hughes
Richard C. Kagan
Jerome F. Keating
Hon. David Kilgour
Steven I. Levine
Daniel C. Lynch
Victor H. Mair
The Very Reverend Bruce McLeod
Reverend Milo L. Thornberry
John J. Tkacik Jr.
Gerrit van der Wees