Taiwan’s Student Mob?

Taiwan ProtestThis is a belated post.  I have been busy with a project at work the last couple of weeks…  Still, I believe what I have to say is still relevant.

It appears that the student protest occupying the Legislative Yuan the last 2-3 weeks is coming to an end.  Depending on which media you read, the significance of the protest meant different things.

Some think this is just a purely economical issue.  The Taiwanese students are not happy with the trade agreements agreed upon but not yet signed into law between the Mainland and Taiwanese side.  This is understandable.  College graduates in Taiwan has had a tough time getting (good) employment this past several years (decade?).  Many – unfortunately – have come to feel protectionism – legal protection from globalism – is the best way to “compete” in the global economy.

However, this is oversimplification.   If you listen to the speeches and talks within the protest, you have no doubt this is about partisan politics between KMT and DPP – and also emotional politics invoked against the Mainland.  As I noted earlier in a comment in another thread, the main impetus of the protest is not about economics, but about the uneasy unsettled status of Mainland-Taiwan relations.  The real reason is unification/independence politics.

But if this is all there is to the protest, I’d not write this post – as there is not much for me personally to write about.  It’s just about normal democratic politicking – built upon base politics, misinformation, distortion, emotional rants, hateful or divisive rhetoric, and what I might call ethno/religious/identity politicking.

Students holding hateful provocative signs calling people from mainland to leave.

Students holding hateful provocative signs calling people from mainland to leave.


What I do want to address quickly here though is this notion propagated among students and media that somehow this is about preserving Taiwan’s democracy.

Foremost, isn’t it ironic that students would occupy a building of a democratically elected government – try to force it to stop function – in the name of democracy?

The R.O.C., like all other democracies around the world today, is a Democratic Republic.  People elect representatives to represent them.  People often focus on the “free” aspect of democracies.  They forget that once this “freedom” is exercised, must also live by and respect the choices made.  The people themselves do not preside over the government, the representatives do. If people don’t, then we have nothing but “mobocracy.”  Or as Thomas Jefferson once warned, in its very essence, without proper Constitutional restraint, “a democracy is nothing more than mob rule….”

By design, elected representatives, as “trustees” of the people, have the free reign to enact policies that might be initially unpopular.  This is why the call a mere call that the government has “stopped representing the people” rings hollow to me.  Anyone can say something like that to anything they don’t like.  The people do not have a “right” to override, micro-manage, or to exercise direct veto oversight over every law, regulation, policy the government takes on.  In the annals of democracies, it is a perfectly legitimate thing for elected government leaders to do things that are not popular.  In the U.S., for example, the very popular Medicare program today was unpopular when passed.

Besides, it is unclear that if the trade pact were that unpopular that were it to be approved it would be an act against the people.  As it stands today, there are many people in Taiwan who actively support the agreement.  A vocal minority might be vehemently against it, but the vast majority are ok with it.

In any case, trade agreements take time to implement.   If things are so bad, the next election cycle is just around the cycle.  Modifications can always be made to trade pact in the future. Students should think about which leaders they think might “represent the people” people and present them to the “people” – instead of interfering with government functions – pretending they are the “people.”

Yet surely, one might ask, the students have other recourse but to wait for the next election?

Sure, but one should do it within the limits set by law.  What the students have done – effectively shutting down government buildings – was illegal.  Resisting the riot police was not right.  It was about political tussling /leveraging outside the framework of democracy – about obstructionist politicking – in a form that is a threat to the proper functioning of democracies.

Some might protest, but what the KMT is doing is undemocratic.  The agreements were negotiated in the dark and we the people are not in a position to review what is agreed before they approve it.

A democratic republic, however, doesn’t provide for a people a first seat in all political negotiations – or a line-by-line review on everything the government does. Such are the purview of Direct Democracies, which are considered abysmal failures in general (see e.g. this general article, or this or this about California’s experience). And selective reviews for only specific laws (say, only this trade agreements) are but ploys for obstructive politicking.

Consider, for example, the cornerstone of Obama’s domestic policy – the so-called obamacare healthcare reforms.  These are complex bills  that are negotiated in private, behind closed doors between a few government officials and key industry leaders, and then signed into law.  While a few opponents might complain about the process, the laws negotiated, despite the closed-door process by which the laws, are considered legitimate and democratic.

Or consider that vaunted TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) that is being negotiated among U.S., Canada, Japan among mostly supposed developed democracies?  They are all taking behind closed doors (see, e.g., also this Canadian perspective).  And let’s not forget, even when laws are made under public scrutiny, their implementations – which can be just as important, if not more so – often take place  without public scrutiny, secretively behind closed-doors.

Backroom closed door dealings are not inconsistent with democratic principles.  It actually happens quite often – and may actually be desirable, even indispensable.  If one is against it, fine.  But it’s wrong say that one is doing it in the name of “democracy.”

What about the question whether the CSSTA should be enacted through legislative approval or executive order?  Under the current Constitution of the R.O.C., agreements such as the CSSTA can be enacted either way.  This is not a loop hole.  In democracies elsewhere, many policies can be enacted either legislatively or by executive order.  In fact, in the U.S., controversial policies today are often enacted by executive order to bypass a divided or grid-locked legislative branch.  Thus, President Obama has enacted many policies by Executive Order to bypass (what he considers to be) an obstructionist Congress.  While this has caused some political uproars among Republicans, it has not caused people to pronounce the end of America’s Democracy.

Students have traditionally held a special place in Chinese politics, and Taiwan is no exception.  But students per se don’t equate the “people” – not even in Taiwan.  And when students are willing to be used but as pawns in partisan politics – as I believe they have  in this case – they certainly should not be given any special position at all.

What Taiwan needs are a new generation who can boldly face the future.  I cannot support students who think Taiwan businesses must be protected from Mainland businesses to be competitively.  Because if they are right, Taiwan’s future must reside in protectionism.  They must also need to be protected from other foreign businesses – including those from Japan, U.S., Europe, etc.

The notion that Mainland China can gain political control over Taiwan through economic agreements is silly.  If Mainland can gain political control over Taiwan when Mainland companies start investing, doing business, hiring people, making products, selling products, providing and using services in Taiwan (a notion I can’t quite grasp), then so can Taiwan gain political control over the Mainland when Taiwanese companies invest and do business in the Mainland.  Given that Taiwan’s economy currently is on a higher plane of development than the Mainland, and given that the trade agreements as currently negotiated disproportionately favors Taiwan businesses (to “buy off” Taiwan – if you listen to the protesters), any net political “control” will flow in Taiwan’s favor, so the theory should go.

In the protesters this time, I see little moral truth or vision.  Instead, I see partisan politics.  I see cross-strait politics.  I see a lack of confidence of Taiwanese’s own ability, of the future, of the world.  When I grew up in Taiwan, Taiwanese saw themselves as confident and hardworking and feisty.  They built the Taiwan of today.  We need a next generation of leaders who are confident and bold and that will take Taiwan forward to a world in which China has re-risen and is at peace, strong and prosperous.

  1. tc
    April 9th, 2014 at 20:48 | #1

    Agree 100%.

    I was born in Taiwan, lived there until I was 30. The faces of those 2 idiots holding the signs make me sick.

  2. pug_ster
    April 9th, 2014 at 22:59 | #2

    Agreed, if we look how deeply entrenched multinational companies in other countries for example in Canada yet they maintained their sovereignty. So even if Chinese companies have majority ownership (the CSSTA does not allow btw) of companies in Taiwan, they could not have any influence in the Taiwanese government anyways. Furthermore, Taiwan has an extremely restrictive immigration policy towards people by marriage have to go to red tape to legally come into the country. There seems to be a bunch of xenophobes towards people in the Mainland, and are afraid of ‘cultural genocide’ but the problem is that people in Taiwan and the Mainland share in the same culture and similar language.

  3. Charles Liu
    April 10th, 2014 at 10:39 | #3

    I would like to ask the student activists if they think what they did would be legal or allowed in US? Taking the Wisconsin union protest as example, protest was limited to the lobby and did not disrupt government function.

    Also, does such occupation by a vocal, fringe minority, represent Taiwan as a whole? What about the political rights of those who support the trade bill and approve expedited legislation process? (bills get fast tracked in US all the time)

    Lastly, should Ma Administration’s fast tracking, heck, even say “forcing” thru a legislation like this, garner Ukrainian style chaos for Taiwan? Should protesters tea bag Ma with derogatory “ni99er” label?

  4. Sleeper
    April 11th, 2014 at 10:20 | #4

    Dramatically speaking, it’s the “Parent’s Sins”.

    There are also not a few young people in HK superciliously fighting against mainland. I’ve never expected extravagantly that these guys along with those radical Taiwanese students may have some purposes and visions, for they’re too young to understand anything, yet. It’s their parents’ sins that make them what seems to be.

    When these young people were still children, they could still live with the “honour title” of Hongkongese/Taiwanese, but such “honour” faded out much more faster than anyone’s expectation. In the last 20 years their parents just “sit idle and ate” and laughed at ugly things happened in mainland, but ignoring the rapid rise of mainland. These parents believed that “superior” systems and life styles of HK/Taiwan can always overshadow any developments in mainland. Now it’s the fact that parents were terribly wrong, but unfortunately their children also taste the bitter of undoing which shouldn’t have been tasted.

    I hope these young people would realize and then correct their parents’ mistakes.

    But unfortunately it seems that recently not a few of them insist following their parents’ mistakes……

  5. Black Pheonix
    April 12th, 2014 at 08:04 | #5


    protest continues in Taiwan, as some protesters refuse to leave government buildings, and police began to forcibly remove those who remain.

    Give them an inch, and they keep on taking.

  6. April 12th, 2014 at 09:12 | #6

    @Black Pheonix

    Think about this: if the public is ok with the police removing a small contingent of people … but not a large contingent … when both are essentially doing the same thing, for much the same reasons – doesn’t that show that democracy in Taiwan is truly about mob rule?

  7. Sleeper
    April 12th, 2014 at 09:35 | #7


    Such a chaos happened in Taiwan further proved that Deng and his men did the right thing in Tian’an Men Square incident.

    And I can laugh even louder at one of my classmates who strongly advocated that “all student movements stand for justice”.

  8. Sleeper
    April 14th, 2014 at 09:34 | #8


    Here’s an interview with the student leaders Lin and Wang (Needless to say, they’re in the green side). Well, I know most of you can’t read Japanese, therefore I select an important piece of the interview (the content in the red-line box):

    Li and Wang said recently Taiwan is in a dire situation, just like human beings who fight against Titans for survival in the popular Japanese comic (wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Titan). And the “Titan” Taiwan has to fight against called “China”. They worried that Taiwan’s independence and freedom speech will be threatened by Chinese investment, and Japan shall be worrying about it as well.

    Some bastards in HK also consider maindland and central government are their “Titans”.

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