Sun, Dec 13, 2009 - Page 2 News List

KAOHSIUNG INCIDENT: Academics acknowledge sacrifice made by protesters

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER , KAOHSIUNG

While the nation now enjoys freedom of the press along with one of the most liberal political systems in Asia, these accomplishments would not have been possible without the sacrifices made by protesters during the Kaohsiung Incident, panelists attending a two-day conference to commemorate the Kaohsiung Incident said yesterday.

Looking back at the incident, academics debated the reasons behind the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government's heavy-handed crackdown on the protest — including its political isolation following the rupture in relations with the US and domestic pressures for political change — and the implications of its action.

“The KMT government experienced one of the most spectacular breakdowns in foreign affairs in world history ... It used to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council that was able to veto the admission of Mongolia into the body,” Wu Chih-chung (吳志中), a political science professor at Soochow University, told the forum in Kaohsiung.

“A decade later, KMT government officials weren't even allowed to enter the UN building,” Wu said.

As a result, to cement its rule, the government turned to cracking down on domestic discontent as foreign pressure intensified, Wu said.

Wang Si-wei (王思維), an assistant professor at Nanhua University, said that losing the US as an ally was the last drop in the bucket for the government.

“The US was one of the few major allies left at the end of the 1970s ... The government lost all credibility on the international stage after relations broke off [in 1979],” he said, adding that the quick military trials of the defendants from the Kaohsiung Incident showed the government's insecurity.

The researchers said the 1970s was also a period where Taiwan's pro-democratic movement flourished, a series of changes that authorities were not yet ready to accept.

“The 1970s-era ushered in the rapid development of the nation's middle class, which was becoming increasingly interested in public affairs and change through popular movements,” said Chen Shi-hong (陳世宏), a researcher on the Kaohsiung Incident. “Some of these middle-class intellectuals formed the core of the new 'Tangwai' [黨外, or outside party] movement.”

He added that the arrests of the dissidents attracted more intellectuals, including former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who became their defense lawyers.

Chen Yi-shen (陳儀深), a researcher at Academia Sinica, also drew attention to the government's inability to tell whether protesters shouting slogans such as “Long live the Taiwanese” were there in support of increased freedoms or Taiwanese independence.

“They couldn't decide if these slogans meant that the public wanted more liberties or were against the Republic of China,” Chen said, adding that in the end, “it didn't matter as they believed both to be crimes.”

The conference capped off a month of events held by the Kaohsiung City Government to commemorate the incident. A photo exhibition will continue until Dec. 23 at the city's Formosa Boulevard MRT station.

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