What you need to know
Last week's student protests at NTU against former Premier Jiang Yi-huah are a snapshot of Taiwan's current political moment.
By Brian Hioe
A public outcry has emerged after student activists disrupted a talk at National Taiwan University (NTU) on Dec. 18 by former premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), calling for Jiang to be held responsible for the actions of the “324” attempted storming of the Executive Yuan during the 2014 Sunflower Movement.
Jiang was Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)’s premier from Feb. 2013 to Nov. 2014 and he is held as responsible for the police violence which took place against student occupiers of the Executive Yuan by many, something which took place after an attempt by student occupiers to take over the building on Mar. 24, 2014. Namely, as premier, Jiang would have had direct authority over whether police force was taken against students or not, much as how during the course of the movement, occupiers of the Legislative Yuan were not evicted because Kuomintang (KMT) majority speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) did not give police the order to do so. For his part, however, Jiang has either denied responsibility for police actions or otherwise justified the actions of police as necessary.
The “324” attempted storming of the Executive Yuan was an attempt to escalate the Sunflower Movement after close to one week of inaction from the Ma administration. The attempt to storm the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s cabinet, led to violent reprisals from the Taiwanese police, with the heavy use of riot police and water cannons.
The event is publicly controversial, however, not only because of controversy over the use of police force during the event but because many members of the public saw students’ actions as too radical. Those who were willing to accept the Legislative Yuan occupation as a necessary and justified measure to block the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) did not always accept occupying the Executive Yuan as also being so, sometimes with the view that this was beyond the pale of civility – or that, unlike with the Legislative Yuan, it would be to disrupt the daily functioning of government to occupy the Executive Yuan, seeing as the Legislative Yuan is generally not in use when the legislature is not in session.
Above: A video of the Dec. 18 protest at National Taiwan University.
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Over one hundred students participated in the Dec. 18 protest, pasting paper flyers outside the room where the talk was scheduled to take place, carrying a banner printed out for the occasion with Jiang’s words from the 324 incident, and playing images of police violence on the room’s projector. The disruption took place about half an hour into the talk, and the action included both participants in the 324 charge, who talked about their injuries from police suffered then, and younger students who had not participated in the charge.
Though offered the opportunity to talk by students, Jiang remained silent and wrote, “Please be rational” on the chalkboard of the classroom, eventually leaving with a police escort after the protest showed no signs of abating after an hour. After Jiang left, the event was opened to public discussion, with one lecturer going up on stage to comment that she had come to the event precisely to interrogate Jiang on the use of police force against student demonstrators.
The protest was timed in order to demonstrate that youth activists have not forgotten about the 324 incident, close to five years later. A court session regarding charges related to 324 had taken place earlier that morning. Though this was not the first court session regarding 324-related charges faced by Sunflower Movement occupiers, it has become concerning to youth activists that these court sessions have sometimes not been well-attended and receive little reportage in the media.
Specifically provoking outrage was the fact that Jiang did not attend this court session earlier that morning, citing that he was busy, yet that he had time to give a talk at NTU that night. For his part, Jiang later stated that he had hoped to comment on the Sunflower Movement, but that he had been disrupted by “irrational” student protesters. Ma Ying-jeou also would comment on the disruption, claiming that students were violating political freedoms of speech and expression with their actions.
In particular, the demonstrations take place concurrent with a charm offensive by KMT heavyweights including Ma and Jiang in the wake of the KMT’s successes in nine-in-one elections last month. This includes the release of a new book by Ma in which he defended his actions during the Sunflower Movement and the CSSTA trade agreement that he had intended to sign with China, Ma having come out of political retirement to stump for KMT candidates in past months, and Ma's continued public appearances in support of the KMT.
Yet some take the fact that public reaction has in some cases been against student demonstrators for disrupting Jiang’s talk to be a sign that public opinion has turned against Sunflower Movement student occupiers close to five years later. This may be a premature judgment, though one notes that many public reactions were divided on the actions of Executive Yuan occupiers to begin with.
Nevertheless, the victories of the KMT in nine-in-one elections have led to questions about whether the spell of the Sunflower Movement has finally faded, with members of the Taiwanese public once again willing to put the KMT back in power. This remains to be seen, but a number of worrying signs are afoot, and caution may be needed at this juncture about what the views of the Taiwanese electorate are at present.
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The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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