A letter by an American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) board member alleging that the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) motive in supporting the “illegal occupation” of the legislature by the so-called “Sunflower student movement” is for political gains in upcoming elections, and which challenges as undemocratic the party’s history of physically blocking legislative proceedings, has raised discussion in political circles and the media.
David Brown, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and former US foreign service officer, wrote the letter to the Nelson Report, a Washington daily newsletter, in response to a letter by DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), which was also published in the newsletter.
Both the AIT and the US Department of State dismissed Brown’s letter as an expression of personal views.
In her English-language letter, the DPP legislator explained the background of the student movement and the actions taken by the students and the government.
Hsiao “conveniently omits the DPP’s record of obstruction of Legislative Yuan consideration of the agreement,” Brown wrote, adding that the DPP encouraged members to support the students’ illegal occupation to protect Taiwan’s democracy.
“But if it is about democracy, is the DPP’s repeated physical blocking of Legislative Yuan action democratic?” Brown wrote.
“The DPP’s problem is that the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT], divided as it is, has a Legislative Yuan majority, and the DPP will go to whatever lengths are necessary to block the majority when their key interests are involved or when it suits the DPP’s election mobilization goals to exploit issues for political advantage,” he wrote.
US citizens “would not permit such obstruction to occur in the [US] Congress, and we would not view the DPP’s obstruction tactics as legitimate democratic action,” he said.
The professor wrote that he suspected the DPP was engaging in the controversy surrounding the cross-strait service trade pact and the student protest to draw support before the year-end elections.
Several media outlets have picked up the news and reported that the US government “has given the DPP the cold shoulder” in its attempt to seek US support for the student protest movement.
In response, Hsiao said that she wrote the open letter on Tuesday for overseas inquiries about the student movement, in particular about the students’ occupation of the Executive Yuan compound and the police crackdown.
“Whether the letter was biased is something I’ll leave for the public to decide,” Hsiao said.
The AIT distanced itself from Brown’s comments.
“David Brown was expressing his own opinion, not that of AIT. The US continues to believe that these issues should be resolved civilly and peacefully. Other questions about the extent of demonstrations and any expectations about their future course are more properly directed to the Taiwan authorities,” AIT spokesperson Mark Zimmer said in an e-mail.
At a press conference yesterday, DPP representative to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said Brown and the US officials have stressed that the letter was Brown’s personal opinion, and Washington’s official position had been clearly defined by US Department of State spokesperson Marie Harf in a press briefing on Monday last week.
“We certainly support Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, which allows for this kind of robust political dialogue on a range of issues. The agreement on cross-strait trade in services that I think you’re referencing is an issue for Taiwan to decide. We hope that the discussion can be conducted peacefully and civilly,” Harf told the briefing.
“If Professor Brown failed to understand a series of incidents of misgovernment, among them land seizures in Dapu District (大埔), Miaoli County; the laid-off-workers controversy and the death of an army corporal, and tried to smear the DPP as engaging in election mobilization, it would be an insult to the awakening of the civil society in Taiwan and to the 500,000 people who attended the mass rally on Sunday,” Wu said.