High Drama

I feel like I should write something right now.  We are in the midst of a crucial period for Taiwan’s future.  The political fight over the Services Trade Agreement is coming to a climax, and this is the most important decision Taiwan has made since Ma was elected in 2008.  It is also turning into a fight over democracy itself, as the KMT tries to ram the agreement through by any means possible.

Students are occupying the legislature.  The blue media is inevitably trying to smear them, but I am quite impressed with their focus on the democratic process.  They may have fundamentally changed the fight from one of those partisan clashes that the DPP would inevitably lose to a broader struggle.  (It’s amusing to watch DPP politicians try to catch up to the students, who apparently took everyone by surprise.)

To add another layer of complexity, the court today ruled today that the KMT could not strip Speaker Wang of his seat.  Wang is thus suddenly secure in his position and may be in a pivotal position to make or break Ma and the pact.  This fight may define Wang’s legacy just as much as it will inevitably define Ma’s presidency.  I think it is a coincidence that Wang’s decision comes at the height of the current political clash, but I think his case is fundamentally tied to it.  I believe the reason Ma tried to purge him last September was precisely that Ma worried Wang would not push the Services Trade pact through the legislature.  We’ll see.

Unfortunately, I can’t write anything much right now.  I’m completely swamped, and I simply have no time.  I’m barely keeping up with events as they happen.  Anyway, we will probably need to wait a while before we can understand what is happening.  Now is the time to follow events as they happen.


By the way, current events are so all-encompassing that I almost missed the fact that today is the 10th anniversary of one of the most important events in recent Taiwanese history.  Ten years ago, one day before the presidential election, President Chen was shot at a campaign event.  The shooting probably got him re-elected, poisoned the political atmosphere, gave the KMT an excuse to avoid any fundamental reform, probably led to Chen’s imprisonment, and maybe even produced the huge KMT majorities that led to ECFA and the current pact.  The current fight is so important that we are ignoring all of that!

4 Responses to “High Drama”

  1. Joseph Wang Says:

    Also watching pretty closely from Hong Kong.

    It could completely transform Taiwan politics (i.e. Arab Spring), or it could be something that falls apart and disappears without a trace (i.e. Occupy Wall Street and the anti-globalization movements of the 1990’s). My guess is that we are going to be here for weeks.

    One thing that I find interesting is that the DPP is stepping on this very carefully. The problem they have is that if the DPP goes full force to kill the Services Pact, this will just increase the intra-party struggles within the DPP, so the DPP has been very supportive of the students movement, but they haven’t gone full force behind their goals. It’s hard to tell from the websites, but the green media doesn’t seem to be solidly behind the student’s goals.

    For their part, the students are distancing themselves from the blue-green, unification-independence split, and so the students are trying to be non-partisan and keeping their distance from the DPP.

    What I think the DPP wants to do is to do what Obama did with college students in 2008. Whether they will be able to do it is another question.

    Ma Ying-Jeou is taking a pretty hard line. My reading of Ma is that he figures that with a 10% approval rating he wants to do things that his successor (either blue or green) can’t. He did mention that he wanted to get the pact ratified by June, which means that he is likely expecting a longish sit-in and possibly some negotiation. In any case if it’s not done by June, you start getting into election season, which means it may not be done at all. Longer term, I think that Ma is betting that what will happen in Taiwan is what happened in the United States. The ratification of WTO and free trade pacts caused a lot of student demonstrations in the United States in the 1990’s, but once the pacts went through and people started making money, the protests tended very quickly.

    The other interesting thing is that I’m finding and this is a world wide trend is that college students are completely detached from the traditional political system. This is happening in Hong Kong, but I think it’s more serious in Taiwan, because in HK, young people are still getting jobs so the protests have been rather minor. Also, the HK police seem to have a lot more experience with protests so they know how to block off buildings. I’m guessing that the protesters were surprised themselves when they ended up occupying the floor of the legislature.

    The things to watch out for

    1) if the protests include people other than students
    2) poll numbers, particularly among young people
    3) if pan-blue starts defecting to the students
    4) if someone seems to panic

    • frozengarlic Says:

      A few quick comments. This is not like the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, the Ukrainian, or the Thai protests. The students in Taiwan are not asking for regime change or even for structural changes in the society. Their first demand is for the legislature to properly do its job. Instead of “Down with Mubarak” or something like that, they are demanding “Speaker Wang must reject Convener Wang’s decision.” What self-respecting revolutionary would ask for something so small and technical?

      Also, this is not really about globalization or trade liberalization. It is fundamentally about China, sovereignty, and identity. If this proposed pact were with any other country, it would not be controversial. China, however, is not merely another country. If you try to understand this through the lens of the Seattle protests, you are missing most of the point.

      • joequant2013 Says:

        The students themselves have said that their objections are because of trade liberalization and not about China. If this was mostly about China, then the DPP would have picked up the flag and come up strongly against it (and likely would have lost). One note here is that the students have gone out of their way not to use “independence” rhetoric, and have very strongly distanced themselves from both the DPP and TSU.

        If it was not a pact with China, there would still be a lot of controversy. Ma’s poll numbers went south with beef imports from the US.

        One reason people need to step back and breathe a bit is that because if this *only* was about China it would be relatively easy to deal with. The thing about this trade pact is that China is willing to give Taiwan practically anything that it wants. The actual trade pact is *highly* favorable to Taiwan, because Taiwan can get concessions from China that it can’t get from anyone else. If there are any concessions that are “too much” China would be happy to renegotiate the deal.

        The trouble with these protests is that the kill *both* the KMT and the DPP’s strategy for dealing with China. Both the KMT and DPP are trying to avoid overdependence with China, and they are trying to deal with this by signing trade pacts with other countries, like the US, South Korea, and Japan. With trade pacts, China will renegotiate. If Taiwan doesn’t like a provision, China will remove it. This is *NOT* the case with US, South Korea, and Japan. If this pact does not go through, then Taiwan will never be able to negotiate a pact with another country, and once that happens, Taiwan is going to end up *more* dependent on China than before.

        What really, really worries me is that something like the Ukarine will happen. The student protests in the Ukarine were intended to protest Russian interference in the Ukarine, but through a series of events, Russia now has far, far more influence over Ukarine than anyone could have dreamed a month ago.

        If Taiwan cannot put together a trade agreement with China, they it will never be able to do it with anyone else. If there are any provisions in the services agreement that people find objectionable with China, then China will remove it, because it knows that anything that doesn’t get put in now will get put in eventually.

        The reason I think this is somewhat different from the standard Taiwan sovereignty issue is what happens when you mention this. If you mention this to the DPP, they will agree that this is a problem. This is why the DPP (particuarly Su Tseng-Chang) has been very careful not to completely reject the services agreement, because that an outright rejection will kill any effort to “balance” Taiwan.

        If you mention this to any of the students, they won’t care. I think a lot of the driving motivation is not “anti-China” but just plain frustration with how bad Taiwan’s economy is. China is a factor, but I think if was in fact the main or only factor, it would have gotten dealt with very differently.

        Yes, Taiwan’s future is at stake, my personal opinion is that if these protests kill the services agreement, then Taiwan is going to be *more* at the mercy of China than otherwise. China will renegotiate the agreement, but the TPP talks will be dead.

        One reason I’d prefer if everyone calm down a bit is that I don’t think I can completely rationally make these sorts of points, and I do not want to get into a political flame. I very much apologize if I go overboard here. I’m hoping that things calm down a bit so that we can more rationally discuss the situation.

  2. Joseph Wang Says:

    Hi there,

    I couldn’t figure out how to send a personal message. So I’ll leave this message here. There’s nothing particularly secret about it, but it’s probably not interesting enough to be posted publicly.

    I’m also a Taiwan political junkie, and I’m trying very hard to keep calm right now. I have some thoughts on what is going on, particularly about about the politics of trade agreements and how it interaction with parliamentary procedure. I do think what is going on right now is important, but I while I do think that it is good that a lot of young people are politically active and I do like watching people express themselves politically, I do think it might be a good idea if they listen a bit while some old fuddy-duddy like me explains why I think they are going in the wrong direction.

    But it would be better to wait until everyone cools off first. The one thing that I think is very interesting is that this is pretty new, because a) this really isn’t about China and b) it doesn’t fit completely in the blue-green split. One reason I think that this caught everyone by surprise (including me) is that the protesters are outside the regular political spectrum, and they could cause the DPP as many problems as they cause the KMT.

    My big worry is that people will panic and this will spin off in a bad direction, but everyone seems to be calm. Once the situation settles I’ll write some comments on the politics of trade agreements and why legislative procedure suddenly becomes important in these sorts of agreements. It’s probably better not to do it right now when everyone (including myself) are in such an excited state. A lot of this comes from my experiences being the sole globalization champion in the 1990’s when the US went through the same debates.

    I hope that happens pretty soon…..

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