Friday, April 4, 2014

Sunflower Movement Reflection

I was traveling between the States and Taiwan during the Sunflower Movement, and all the traveling didn't prevent me from being glued to the live feed from inside and outside of the Legislative Yuan during the time I was away. I had to take care of some family and work business in the U.S. before going to Taiwan to stay for the next couple of years. 

While in the U.S., I was invited to deliver two lectures on the social movements in Taiwan. The Sunflower Movement served as a great example to begin my lecture. I was also contacted by several international and US domestic media outlets (CNBC, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, NPR) for interviews and for background information on the Sunflower Movement. What I realized again was the tremendous lack of knowledge about Taiwan outside of Taiwan. Moreover, the lack of accurate accounts of what exactly is happening in Taiwan is tremendous. Most who are reporting about Taiwan have very limited knowledge on who are the major movers and shakers, who are the active participants in particular events and what are the positions of major political parties and politicians.The mainstream media outlets in Taiwan is not helping with bridging this gap either. Therefore, due to this lack of knowledge and accurate information, it became exceedingly difficult for journalists, foreign academics and government officials to decipher between facts and propaganda.  More importantly, with such information lag, current and former U.S. government officials, often derive at far fetched conclusions on happenings in Taiwan. The lack of accurate information also prevents foreign government officials, policy makers and journalists from developing good analysis on the implications and significance of important events in Taiwan, for example, the Sunflower Movement

In the weeks of student occupation of the Legislative Yuan, I've been asked on numerous occasions on the reasons behind such endeavor, and I explained that the occupation did not just happen on a whim. It was the result of accumulation of lobbying and protests within the system, playing by the rules, submitting list of names to participate in the supposed "public hearings" with no avail. Most who interviewed me did not realize the infamous 30 seconds, where KMT legislator and internal administrative committee chair, Chang Ching-chung unilaterally declared the review as finished and sent the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement out of committee for vote. Some interviewer came with the preconceived notion that the occupation was orchestrated by the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) or by its former chairwoman, Tsai Ing-wen. Some asked if the protesters were anti-China and anti-free trade. I systematically informed those who are interested of hearing about my observation that, when it comes to Taiwan, nothing is simple. Issues are almost always multifaceted and there are always numerous variables at play. While there are some anti-free trade and anti-globalization elements within the occupation participants, one cannot generalize the Sunflower Movement as just an anti-China or anti-free trade movement. There was also the variable to wanting to maintain the quality of democracy in Taiwan, as well as secure procedural justice for government institutions like the Legislative Yuan. As far as the Taiwanese government's official position of accusing the student protesters as violent, unruly, unreasonable mob, there are plenty of videos on Youtube for one to see it for him/herself. There are also numerous videos of police brutality on the days of Marcy 23rd-24th. 

As I watched more than 350 thousand people filling Ketagalan Boulevard and the surrounding streets on March 30th, I was reminded the very first protest I documented on the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in front of the Executive Yuan on June 24th 2013, the day before the agreement was signed. There were less than 20 young students and members of NGOs present. There were practically no media coverage of the event. The turn out on March 30th was incredible, it also was a demonstration and validation of the student activists' hard work in the past year. 

Again, as the international coverage and articles on the Sunflower Movement demonstrated, there is a pressing need for a channel or platform, where foreign journalists, academics, researchers, government officials, policy makers and Taiwan watchers, can turn to for concise and accurate reporting and on-the-ground information on Taiwan without the filtering of pan-blue or pan-green media. With the funding I have from my current position at a research institution, I am looking to launch a weekly or bi-weekly publication on the happenings of Taiwan. As events happen, for example, like the Sunflower Movement or the 7-in-1 local election, I would then publish more than once a week. The launch date of the first issue should be in mid-May.  I hope this endeavor will contribute to aiding the readers of my blog to further keep up with events in Taiwan as they unfold

Lastly, here are links to my interviews and video. Thanks for reading my blog entries and submitting your comments. The upcoming year in Taiwan will be an eventful one, so please stay tuned.

Taiwan's students head to the streets with sunflowers to protest closer ties with China
Protests in Taiwan against a controversial trade agreement with China
Taiwan's 'sunflower movement' wary of Chinese ties
Uprising Radio - Taiwan students protest against Trade Agreement with China