Thursday, August 1, 2013

Occupy Legislative Yuan - The Youths Against Service Trade Agreement with China Movement

More than one hundred  students from some of the most prominent universities in Taiwan came to the front door of the Legislative Yuan to protest against the Service Trade Agreement the Ma administration signed with China on June 22nd of this year. 

From personal experience, as I used to teach a 8:00-8:50am class before assuming my post in Taiwan, the physical function and intellectual capabilities of most college students at 8 o'clock in the morning are next to none.  What I found upon arriving the front gate of the Legislative Yuan; however, are a group of bright-eyed, smiling students already busy working on the logistics of the protest.  The students planned the protest before the scheduled public hearing on the Service Trade Agreement at the Legislative Yuan's Internal Administration Committee.  The students also request to have permission to attend the public hearing.

There were many familiar faces from the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement last year and many new faces as well.  Not only were the students worried that the Anti-Media Monopoly Act would be thrown out during the extra legislative session, they are also extremely concerned with the signing of the service pack, which will allow Chinese companies access to various media outlets in Taiwan, such as the print industry, photography industry and graphic design.  

The beginning of the protest was like any other.  Students were ask to sit with members of
their university while holding placards displaying the name of their schools.  The convener of the event was a student from the National Tsing Hua University.  The students also announced their three demands:

1. For the Legislative Yuan to reject and to stop reviewing the Service Trade Agreement due to lack of transparency during the negotiation process. (強烈要求立法院退回、拒審兩岸黑箱服貿協議).

2. For the administration to hold public hearings on every industry affected by the Service Trade Agreement and to also include a human rights clause to guarantee the rights of the people (強烈要求馬政府召開各產業各行業的服貿協議聽證會、納入人權制度性保障).

3. For the administration to adopt concrete negotiation procedures and resolution measures to tackle challenges presented by having a free trade agreement with China. (強烈要求馬政府健全自由貿易協議的談判制度,因應各式自由貿易協議挑戰).

After a series of short speeches and small songs, the students received word that the National Chinese Party legislator, Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), who presided over the meeting rejected their request to send representatives to attend the public hearing.  

Getting ready to climb
The student leaders pleaded again for the opportunities to participate and were turned down yet again.  

The students then decided to resort to more drastic measures.  Many of them climbed over the front gate of the Legislative Yuan.  Since most of the police officers were positioned at the front gate, they were not prepared for the students to go over the gate from all sides.  Many students made it to the other side and headed directly toward the legislative chamber. 

Unfortunately, none of them made it very far.  The police dispatched out numbered the students, and soon most of them were caught and brought to the courtyard.  I observe the police being especially rough with the students who made it inside.  An average of four to five police officers on top of one student, bending their hands to their backs and using their knees to keep the students hands in place.  There were many female students also made it inside the gate and was treating in similar ways by female police officers.  

Up and over! 
While the police inside of the Legislative Yuan gate were busy catching the students, another wave of clash broke up on various places along the gate as more students again attempted to climb over the wall.  One police officers were seen jumping on top of a pillar and pushing one protesters off.  I also observed a few police officers losing their cool while attempting to remove the students from the gate.  Even when the commanding officer ordered the lower ranking officers to back off, some were still aggressively moving toward the students, some shoving hard with their shields.

I was behind a group of protesters on the left side of the gate when I observed one member of the special police, called on scene to provide backup and assistance, clamped both of his hands together with his right elbow raised, as he move in on the students.  He then started elbowing the students as he pushes his body forward.  I moved close to him and said to him in a voice loud enough for him to hear, "Are you even supposed to be doing that?  Is this behavior part of the protocol now?  Stop elbowing people!  You are not supposed to do that!"  

The police officer ignored me, as he continued with his disturbing behavior.  As the clash subsided, he retreated to the back of the police line and was seemingly talking to one of his colleagues about what he just did, as he raised his elbow again and reenacted the bumping motion.

Meanwhile, another clash broke up as more students were scaling the wall.  At the same time, other protesters physically removed one of the gates, leaving a huge gap between bricks, allowing more students to get inside.  The student leaders called for everyone to remain calm and to return to the tent to sit down.

Moments later, police officers began to round up the students who made it inside and carried them to the gate and threw them outside.  Another clash broke up, as students trying to push their way inside again.  

There were several occasions of pure chaos yesterday.

At the end, the students claimed they've made positive impact in influencing the Service Trade Agreement as the committee suspended the review process for the time being.  

Legislators are preparing to vote on the Nuclear Power Plant No.4 Referendum Act (核四公投案) in the morning.  Members of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) are sleeping inside the Legislative Yuan for the night with intent to take over the speaker's podium to block the vote.

There were other non-student members present at yesterday's protest.  The most prominent one being members of the Taiwanese Hip Hop group, Kou Chou Ching (拷秋勤), whom I met on many occasions on the street.  Members of the group are dedicated to social causes and would show up at protests to perform or to join in on the protest.  I especially enjoy their 2007 songs, "Civil Revolt (官逼民反) and "Your name is Taiwan", which are also the crowd's favorites at protests. 

As the Ma administration pushes forward with the Service Trade agreement and holding public sessions in front of local markets and temples to promote and explain the agreement, one observes an increasing number of academics and members of the industry coming out to oppose the Service Trade Agreement.  

The Chair of the Economics Department at the National Taiwan University, Professor Jang Show-ling (鄭秀玲) came out publicly against the Service Trade Agreement, stating the agreement would affect more than one thousand industries and millions of workers in Taiwan.  She also accused the Ma government for covering up and being dishonest to the public on the impact of signing such agreement.  Professor Jang's powerpoint presentation from her panel discussion on July 25th over the impact of the Service Trade Agreement can be found here

Fish Lin from Kou Chou Ching facing off
with the police
In addition, publisher Rex Hou(郝明義) resigned as President Ma Ying-jeou's advisor.  He also issued a harsh letter condemning the administration.  Hou said Ma must be either "an autocrat or incredibly stupid" (不是獨裁, 就是愚不可及) to not understand the impact of signing such Service Trade Agreement had on Taiwan's industries and national security.  The President's Office said it "respects" How's decision to resign.  

President Ma Ying-jeou also portrayed the controversy surrounding the signing of the Service Trade Agreement as the battle between those who are spreading rumors and those who try to clarify them.  He specifically directed his criticism to "a certain Economic professor from a public university".

With the number of academics, students, artists, authors coming forward to voice their opposition to the Service Trade Agreement, the largest opposition party has been visibly absent.  Chairman Su Tseng-chang was seen visiting factories and holding discussion sessions with members of different industries to listen to their concerns, but more should come from the opposition in proposing a concrete plan to deal with trade with China or just with China.  

For further reading:

Associated Press report - "Scuffles erupt over Taiwan-China Trade Pack"

Wealth Magazine (財訊) article on why Professor Jang Show-ling, Chairperson of the Department of Economics at the National Taiwan University decided to step forward to oppose the Service Trade Agreement: 
媽媽教授鄭秀玲 - 洗頭洗上火線 看服貿內容「簡直要昏倒」- 不說出來睡不著覺

Full text of the Declaration of the Youths Against Service Trade Agreement with China Movement

The Lazy Man's Guide(懶人包) to Service Trade Agreement. 

Kou Chou Ching performs

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