Sunflower Student Movement Protest
Students’ mass protest in Taiwan to end occupation of legislature | Artemas Liu

December 22, 2016

by Chen Wei-Ting, Lin Fei-Fan, June Lin, and Liu Yen-Ting

On December 15, the New York Times ran an article belatedly covering the reaction of Taiwanese citizens to the recent international dustup over President-elect Donald Trump’s unprecedented phone call with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen. It featured short quotes from Lin Fei-Fan, a leader of the Sunflower Student Movement—a popular 2014 uprising by progressive students and civic organizations that challenged the conservative government of the time over its support for a trade deal with China that they believed would sacrifice Taiwan’s democracy in the service of corporate profits. While Lin and other democracy activists were grateful for coverage of their views in the American “newspaper of record”—given the major global news media previously framing the story almost entirely around China’s reaction to the call—they felt that their full position was not adequately reflected in the article. So, Lin and three other activists wrote the following explanatory statement that they would like American progressives to read and share widely. -Jason Pramas, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism & DigBoston

  1. We felt ambivalent about the phone call and Trump’s recent remarks. On the one hand, the call brought a chance for the world to reconsider its relations with a democratic island nation—Taiwan. On the other hand, we are puzzled by the reaction of the so-called liberals and the news media. Because the last thing that we think liberals should care about is “angering China.” However, many choose to put all their focus on that. Liberals should care more about the people of Taiwan and how such allies—sharing so many similar values with the people of the United States as we do—should be treated going forward.
  1. Although we can hardly accept that Trump uses Taiwan as a bargaining chip with China, we also have to point out that the current China policy of Obama’s administration has brought many crises to Taiwan. For example, in 2009, when Obama met with the Chinese president Hu Jing-Tao, he continued encouraging the Cross-Strait Agreement and dialogues that encouraged the former Kuomintang (KMT) government—which presided over a military dictatorship from 1949 to 1987—to pursue policies detrimental to Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty in order to accelerate integration with China both politically and economically. Eventually triggering the Sunflower Movement in 2014.
  1. If people worry about Trump’s move of using Taiwan as a business bargaining chip, they also have to be aware that the Democrats and many liberals of all stripes were/are also using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to maintain America’s relationship with China.
  1. If Americans really care about Taiwan’s situation and the difficulties it is facing—being treated as a pawn in a giant geopolitical game— the best way to help is to “Urge the Normalization of US-Taiwan Relations.” Normalized relations can be the best way to keep rumors at bay and—along with allowing democracy-monitoring civil society organizations to act as watchdogs in the public interest—avoid letting the Taiwan issue be manipulated by a small number of politicians, from the president on down.
  1. Trump’s victory can be seen as part of the recent trend of the rise of right-wing conservatism around the world. However, when conservative forces are gathering, progressives worldwide must gather together as well. There is no reason for liberals and progressives to abandon a democratic and liberal ally, or leave them alone to face relentless political economic pressure and the growing threat of invasion from authoritarian China.