Under normal circumstances, these young Taiwanese professionals would be doing just what about any other people their age would do on a Saturday afternoon: rest, or go shopping. But for the three or four sitting at the table sipping cappuccinos and smoking cigarettes, shopping is the last thing on their mind.
It’s only a couple of days before the arrival of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yulin (陳雲林) and already their anxiety is palpable. Like many others this past week, they are planning on demonstrating his presence in Taiwan, as well as the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s opening to China.
What truly worries them, however, isn’t Chen’s presence here, or even Taipei’s closer relations with Beijing. Their primary concern lies at home, with what they see as a dangerous and rapid shift toward authoritarian rule under Ma.
“Look at the indictment of [Democratic Progressive Party Tainan City Councilor] Wang Ting-yu (王定宇). It only took them eight or nine days” to conduct the investigation, one said.
Added to this are the government’s restrictions on assembly and demonstrations outside the Presidential Office Building and the many instances where police have disrupted the activities of people who were not breaking the law, such as Wu Ting-ho (吳庭和), a World United Formosans for Independence member, who was manhandled by a group of police officers in front of the Presidential Office Building on Oct. 11.
Wu wasn’t doing anything wrong, he wasn’t breaking the law, one of the young professionals told the Taipei Times. They stopped him because of what was written on his T-shirt. Video footage shown to the Taipei Times also showed two elderly individuals being forced to leave the premises.
“We’re scared,” another said.
Because of the arbitrariness of police action and how unclear the rules about what constitutes a violation of the law have become, “we don’t know what to expect. We don’t know if we’ll be arrested.”
For many of them, such police action is new, as they were too young to remember when the nation was still under martial law.
“Look at the [anti Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁)] demonstrations by the ‘Red Shirts’ last year,” one said. “They were allowed to demonstrate for months, to camp at [Taipei Main Station] and the police didn’t bother them.”
Asked if Chen Yulin’s motorcade would try to avoid demonstrators by using the back streets, one of them said: “No. For such an important figure, using the back streets would be a loss of face. His car will use major roads.”
“That’s why there will be such a large police presence,” the person said. “There’s going to be 7,000 police officers deployed for Chen’s visit.”
“We’re pretty pessimistic,” another said. “Maybe some of us want to be arrested. It feels like it’s martial law all over again. Perhaps what the Ma government is doing by cracking down on dissent and freedom of speech is preparing the terrain” for a Taiwan that is part of China.