Sunflower Movement: The End of the Beginning

Longest Protest Occupying the Legislature in Taiwan’s History: Sunflower Movement Demonstrates Taiwan’s Firm Determination for Democracy and Unifies Generations

Today, April 10, 2014, at 6 p.m., the largest peaceful social movement, and the longest protest in Taiwan’s history, the Sunflower Movement, came to a symbolic end. The protesters have occupied the Parliament for over three weeks. They have decided to shift their efforts of promoting a monitoring framework that will ensure an honest review of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), and ensure transparency of future cross-strait trade negotiations for the general public. This young generation has proved themselves as a generation of hope for Taiwan’s democracy.

Sunflowers_legislature.jpgOn March 19, four hundred students occupied the Parliament of Taiwan, and over 10,000 people joined the protest peacefully within a few days. This protest has been referred to as the Sunflower Movement, in which the sunflower has become a symbol for pursuing true democracy in Taiwan and transparency in its political arena. Sunflower Movement protesters are opposed to the CSSTA because of the government’s under-the-table negotiations with the Chinese government since 2013. Taiwan’s current administration rushed through the Agreement without an item-by-item review processes as President Ma promised to the Taiwanese public in 2012. Over the past six years, Ma has strengthened Taiwan’s economic ties with China. With the stagnation in the Taiwanese economy and the outflow of younger generation workers to China, Taiwanese people are increasingly worried that too much economic dependency on China would eventually lead to China’s takeover of Taiwan, as the Chinese government has intended since the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party escaped to Taiwan in 1949. This CSSTA may risk Taiwan’s national security by opening the Taiwanese printing, financing, telecom and other commodity industries to the Chinese. Eight public hearings, many held in buildings not open to the public, were held within three days in early March, but the Ma Administration did not sufficiently address the doubts and disagreement on items from grassroots groups. No effective or clear contingency plans were proposed for the potential impacts on workers, small businesses, and other aspects of Taiwanese society. The last straw was on March 18, when Legislator Chang claimed the Agreement has passed the Parliament committee in the first 30 seconds of the meeting, without any deliberative review and the required due process. The students initiated the “anti-black box protest” to make four appeals to the government: to withdraw the current CSSTA; to establish a formal monitoring mechanism for all future agreements with the Chinese government; to revisit the CSSTA until the monitoring mechanism is established; and to form a citizens constitutional congress for full-participation of the general public, to maximize the legislative transparency and responsiveness to public concerns. The occupation of the Parliament and the sit-in outside of the building have unified the Taiwanese people, reaffirmed their desire for democracy, and strengthened their determination to remain a society of freedom.

Even though some have characterized the Sunflower Movement’s occupation of the Parliament as illegal, many believed it revealed the illegal legislative process regarding the CSSTA, as well as highlighted public frustration with President Ma’s inept administration. Even in democratic nations, civil disobedience can be controversial, but as with the Sunflower Movement, it is at times the only effective method, a last resort, to fight against government injustice. President Ma and his Administration lost trust across Taiwanese society—his public support fell to nine percent in a late 2013national poll. It has also exposed the problematic government system where the President has virtually complete control over the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of the government, without appropriate balance of power. When the protesters attempted to expand their activity to the Executive Yuan, instead of trying to calm the situation, the Ma Administration, on midnight of March 23, sent 1,500 policemen to forcibly expel the protesters. The riot police used batons and shields to beat unarmed protesters and journalists, and even some doctors on the scene to care for injuries, as well as water cannons to clear the area. On April 1, the China government’s gangster proxy went to the Legislature to intimidate protesters, beating up several, without being arrested by the police.

Wild Lilies

The Sunflower Movement has debunked the concerns of the older generation about the younger generation. It demonstrates young Taiwanese actually do care about cross-strait politics and the future of their country. It demonstrates young Taiwanese have sufficient abilities to enact their civic responsibility by peacefully and insistently protesting over three weeks. It demonstrates young Taiwanese have galvanized Taiwanese society and unified generations to strategically safeguard its hard-earned democracy. It is not merely a student social movement; instead, it has evolved to a movement of all the people.

Sunflower Movement in Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Sunflower Movement has elicited the hope for Taiwan and inspired Taiwanese and those who support democracy around the world. On March 30, across 17 nations and 45 cities, people gathered in support of the Ketagalan Boulevard demonstration in front of the Presidential Office building, where over 350,000 people across Taiwan gathered to demand a formal response to the protesters’ requests from President Ma. In Taiwan and across the world, there are many ongoing discussions to understand the CSSTA, the political fallout it brought, Taiwan’s future of self-determination, and the need for government and constitutional reform. Many Taiwanese researchers and social movement veterans overseas, including Wang Dan, the leader of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in Beijing and the modern Chinese democracy movement, have credited the Sunflower Movement: “It has transformed the younger Taiwanese, the whole generation. They would never feel indifferent to the reality and politics. They have shown their civic quality and care about the politics.”

Today they left the Legislature with three missions: monitoring the legislative process for a formal and transparent mechanism for future cross-strait agreement, reviewing the CSSTA item-by-item, and promoting the civic constitutional convention. The overall message is to demand the current Administration to re-evaluate their pro-China policy, as the majority of Taiwanese do not prefer to be ruled by the Chinese government. This is just the beginning of a new democratic transformation in Taiwan. Civic actions are ongoing across legislative districts in Taiwan, proposing to impeach some legislators for their black-box negotiation in the CSSTA, expressing public opinions to legislators, supervising politicians and media, disseminating flyers and explaining how to prevent black-box negotiation and to ensure democratic process, clarifying to the older generation in local communities about the impact of CSSTA on Taiwan’s medical resources and universal insurance, and keeping track on the formal legislative process through and online live broadcast from the Legislature.

Courtesy of J. Michael Cole

Unfortunately, the government has warned the student leaders, including Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-Ting, that they will be arrested after leaving the Legislature. If the government follows through with its threat, it will remind people of the nightmare of political suppression during the martial law era (1949-1987). Nevertheless, the student leaders and many grassroots civic groups are committed to the cause, with the Taiwanese people behind them, and they plan to continue on their mission to fight for Taiwan’s democracy.

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