Interview: Tsay Ting-Kuei
Tsay Ting-Kuei is the convenor of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan and the Free Taiwan Party. The following interview took place on September 19th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: My first question is how did you begin participating in social movements? For what reasons and regarding what issues? For you, of course, that may be when you were studying abroad in America.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: Well, to start from the beginning, I guess I began participating in social movements from when I was studying in America. I left Taiwan in 1978 to go study in America. I completed my Ph. D in 1982. And I came back to Taiwan in 1990.
After I left Taiwan, only then did I begin to know Taiwanese history and begin to want to change Taiwan. But after I finished my Ph. D in 1982, because of the fact that I was on the political blacklist, I had no way to come back. So I stayed in America and continued working, teaching in Syracuse University.
In the spring of 1990, I came back. In March, the Wild Lily movement broke out. At the end of that year, at the end of 1990, I joined along with my friends the Taiwan Association of University Professors (TAUP) and began participating in it. In the second year, I became an official in the TAUP, and worked behind the scenes.
Tsay Ting-Kuei. Photo credit: ScoutT7/WikiCommons/CC
At the time, the TAUP led a lot of social movements, forming the One Hundred Actions Alliance (一百行動聯盟), and addressing issues related to the political blacklist.
In 2002, I worked under President Chen Shui-Bian, first in the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan as vice-chairman, and in 2004, as vice-chairman of the Environmental Protection Administration. In 2007, I returned to teaching. Because elections were the coming year, I decaded to become president of the Taiwan Association of University Professors. The term for that was one year, so I was president for two terms.
We lost the election in in 2008, so afterwards, when Ma Ying-jeou took power, he began to allow Chinese officials to visit Taiwan, such as Chen Yunlin. I believed this issue was quite important and that the consequences would be quite severe.
At the time, society was in quite low spirits. Because of the electoral defeat, which was overwhelming. By over 2,000,000 votes. Most people felt defeated, that this was enough.
I wasn’t willing to accept that. At the very least, Ma Ying-jeou claimed that the future of Taiwan should be jointly decided by 23 million Taiwanese, But after he came to Taiwan, his stance was that Chinese officials should come to Taiwan. This seemed like a reversal to me.
I led protests, beginning a hunger strike, which the people urged me to stop. Some people continued the hunger strike. But because hunger strikes were difficult, the tents from that protest have remained outside the Legislative Yuan until today. It’s been nine years now.
In 2014, during the outbreak of the Sunflower Movement, we were already there. We can’t say that it was a movement we started. Since Ma Ying-Jeou took power, he has attempted to allow Chinese power to enter Taiwan and to push for economic policies which weaken Taiwan’s economy. We opposed this. He doesn’t think Taiwan needs national defense, for example. He stands on the side of China. So as a pro-independence organization, we opposed him.
Before the movement, it was very difficult for us to imagine that so many people would become concerned with the issue. But our organization was smaller and what we confronted was not something young people understood.
They didn’t understand our demands either. They didn’t identify with being in favor of independence. They identify with the ROC. They don’t believe that Taiwan needs to be a sovereign, independent country. So when the Sunflower Movement began, it’s not because they identified with our views that they began the Sunflower Movement. It just so happened that the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan (ART) and and these young people just happened to oppose the same issue, and this exploded.
On the surface, we appear to be a member of the Sunflower Movement. During the movement, we were in front of the Legislative Yuan, but we happened to be there from the beginning. But these movement organizations deliberately excluded us. Their focus was inside the Legislative Yuan. or the two sides, Qingdao East Road and Jinan Road.
Brian Hioe: I want to ask about that later, too. Back then, I saw that the ART participated in a lot of social movements. I saw the ART in many places. Can you also talk about the push for referendum reform?
Tsay Ting-Kuei: When we began, that was our aim. Because the issues that the ART protested were reacting to Ma Ying-jeou’s different policies. If you said that 23 million Taiwanese people should decide Taiwan’s future, how could you decide on your own to allow Chinese officials to come to Taiwan?
We believed that with this, Ma Ying-Jeou aimed to have international society see this, and believe that Taiwan had elected a president in favor of unification. If there were no protests against his attempts to facilitate political unification, this meant that Taiwanese supported Ma’s actions. We believe that this needed to be protested, to allow international society to see what Taiwanese people actually thought.
Our slogan then was “Return people’s rights to all of the people.” It’s sort of long. We later shortened that to “Return rights to the people.” We knew that because Ma Ying-Jeou represents executive power, we advocated referendum as the people making decisions in the end. But this also touched on other social issues such as Nuclear Reactor No. 4. The Referendum has a lot of limits that have to be met for referendum. Right now, it’s called the Referendum Act. However, if you actually understand the limitations, the act might be called the “Referendum Limitation Act.”
Photo credit: Y.H. Kao/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Or a “birdcage referendum act.”
Tsay Ting-Kuei: Or the so-called “Birdcage Referendum Act” [Laughs]. We believe that because a referendum is direct democracy, but that the will of the people is also very hard to express through intermediaries. So we also advocate reform of the legislative election system. We hoped that people would at least have the ability to express their will.
In the middle of this happened the Wild Strawberry Movement, demonstrating against the Assembly and Parade Act. But they disappeared afterwards. We believed that restrictions on the Assembly and Parade Act, limit people’s rights to freely assemble, so we advocated getting rid of it. This hasn’t had any effects up to the present as well, it’s currently stuck.
But these are our three important demands. These are all internal to the system. The amendment of the Referendum Act is needed for referendum. Legislative elections are written as part of the constitution, so it’s not easy to amend. Nevertheless, the Referendum Act didn’t change under Ma and it hasn’t changed under the DPP.
After one year of demonstration, we realized that we can’t expect the government to do this. So we had to reconsider where Taiwan’s important issues come from. And we realize that this comes from that the ROC is a system of a government-in-exile. So the meaning of our protests broadened. We later came to advocate getting rid of the ROC constitution, since this is a fundamental cause.
In the ROC constitution, there is reference to the Mainland Area and the Taiwan Area, and these different twisting and turning regulations, so many things cannot be addressed. Many people talk about normalizing the country, but they don’t dare talk about that the ROC constitution is the source of these issues. Up to now, only the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan advocates this more strongly.
Brian Hioe: Going back to what we were talking about with the core decision making group, you said you didn’t agree with some of their views and maybe their way of doing things. I remember you opposed the decision to withdrawal.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: There was a core decision making group of nine people. I don’t know who the members are, because I didn’t enter. I know some who may have participated in meetings, but those who made decisions were those nine people. Those who participated in meetings were probably more than just those nine. There are also people who advocated that because the Legislative Yuan had four sides, because we occupied one entire side of the Legislative Yuan, we should have 1/4 representation! [Laughs] But we didn’t have one representative.
We had differences in views from these student groups and NGOs in terms of views, because they wanted to change the ROC from within the system. We wanted to overturn the ROC government from outside. They knew our views, which was why they didn’t allow us to attend. Because there’s another degree in between. Because apart from opposing the CSSTA, we had Taiwanese independence flags that we openly displayed. They opposed this.
There was one time they sent a journalist I know, who I won’t name, to talk about it with me, that the people on the inside hoped that I would take the Taiwanese independence flag down. I said I had no way to agree with this, because we were pro-independence from the beginning. But the people inside claimed this was confusing. It wasn’t confusing, we were against the CSSTA and in favor of Taiwan independence. I told them, that if you don’t welcome us here, although we oppose the CSSTA, at the very least you need people to watch this spot. You have another option, which is to tell those supportive of the CSSTA to take over this spot. Of course, those in favor of unification would not oppose the CSSTA.
So in the end, he scratched his nose and left. It was this situation. We were independent during the Sunflower movement. Or you could say that we had been marginalized.
But we did what we wanted to. For us, we accomplished our aims in blocking the CSSTA at that point in time. In the middle, there were some events. 318 was occupying the Legislative Yuan from the front. During 323, they decided to occupy the Executive Yuan, and in the process of it, people came to ask my opinion. Of course, there were two factions internally, those which was more moderate and the other faction which advocated escalating the situation. I leaned towards the latter, so my view was that why not try to occupy the Presidential Office? Or the Executive Yuan?
I didn’t advocate trying to occupy the Control Yuan, there’s not much real use for the Control Yuan. As for Presidential Office, it would be too dangerous towards participants. The building is also too large and there might be too few people who could occupy it. In the end, they decided on the Executive Yuan. The Executive Yuan is closer to the Legislative Yuan. So they asked us to go to the backdoor of the Executive Yuan.
The Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan’s occupation tent next to the Legislative Yuan. Photo credit: 玄史生/WikiCommons/CC
Brian Hioe: I was at the backdoor then. I was one of those who charged, so I saw the ART.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: We tried climbing ladders to get into the Executive Yuan. After we got in, there were no lights on, and there was nowhere to go, so we used our cell phones for light. So after we got inside, we got lost because we didn’t know the layout of the building, after 20 minutes, we got arrested by the police. [Laughs] I think we had four or five people inside and there was about twenty police.
After that was 330. After the police violence against students and members of the public on 324, this led to public anger. 500,000 took to the streets. As far as our views or analysis went, those there shouldn’t have ended the event so early. No aim had been accomplished and the event ended. This did not meet the demands of a movement. The police probably would have not acted against 500,000. Some demands could have at least been made, such as demanding that the Minister of Economic Affairs step down. Or that the premier should step down.
For it to end that way would have been very beautiful, but they didn’t do anything like that. The Executive Yuan and Ministry of Economic Affairs were very intent to pushing for the CSSTA. But they weren’t made to take responsibility and we went home. This was a waste of energy. They were tired, so by 330, they already wanted to go home and shower and sleep. They said that on television as well, that it had been a long time since they showered or slept.
For a nonviolent protest, this is necessary, but they were young and inexperienced. For those who held decision-making power, this may have been the first time they participated in a large-scale protest. Of course, decisions weren’t only made by the students. Lai Zhongxiang may have been a strong deciding force behind them, as far as it appears to me. He’s on the fringes of the New Tide faction of the DPP, which has a role behind many social movements.
Brian Hioe: What about the decision to withdraw? Because I remember that you opposed it then.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: I opposed it. For the simple reason that you occupied the Legislative Yuan to prevent the CSSTA from reaching a third reading and passing. It had already been pushed through the second reading in thirty seconds by Chang Ching-Chung. For the Legislative Yuan to meet would have been the third reading and using occupation to prevent this from passing is reasonable.
But they later decided to withdraw, saying that the cross-straits oversight bill needed to be passed. Up to now, it hasn’t been passed into law yet. So that’s a step backwards. From my perspective, this kind of backing down isn’t right.
I wasn’t in the decision-making group. If you decide to withdraw, you can’t leave right away. Because these kind of problems appeared in the past. When you withdraw, you have no idea what the cross-straits oversight bill will become. Nobody will pay attention.
What I said then was that I believed it was fine to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan, but we wouldn’t withdraw from outside the Legislative Yuan. You have to force the Legislative Yuan to pass a cross-straits oversight bill suitable to the demands of the Taiwanese people.
It was like that with the Referendum Act in legislature as well. Originally, it was quite good. But the final result had no strength, because there was no oversight over the process. Many people went on hunger strike. But because political parties were able to deal with it on their own in the Legislative Yuan, it became the Birdcage Referendum Act. So I think that for a social movement, one has to fight to the finish. One can’t withdraw because of physical exhaustion.
Brian Hioe: I remember you were hit by a scooter then.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: I almost was. That was a different issue. Because after the students withdrew, the ART was left outside of the Legislative Yuan, Zhongzheng First Police Precinct originally said that they would let us stay, but they later reversed course on this. Around 4 or 5 AM on April 11th, we were driven out by police. So that morning, I felt quite angry that we had been tricked, so I was going to run to Zhongshan South Road to block the road. But the situation was very chaotic and my thinking wasn’t very clear, so I nearly got hit by a bus. The bus driver’s reactions were pretty fast, so I only nearly got hit.
Because this nearly happened, the media reported on it, and people weren’t sure what had happened or what I was trying to do, as though I was trying to get hit by a car. So many young people mobilized on the night of April 11th, “passing by” Zhongzheng First Police Precinct. Some young people were sentenced for that.
The surrounding of Zhongzheng First Police Precinct. Photo credit: ETTV
Brian Hioe: To change directions, how would you explain the relation between your participation in Taiwanese social movements and Taiwanese identification. Regarding your participation in the Sunflower Movement or other Taiwanese social movements.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: I believe that this has all been continuous for me, from when I left Taiwan to study abroad and came to know Taiwanese history and wanted to change Taiwan, or participated in the Association of Taiwan University Professors. Before, I participated in WUFI as well, before I returned to Taiwan in 1990. Because the name, “Taiwanese Independence and Nation Building Alliance” sounded like what I wanted. [Laughs]
After I came back, I began by working behind the scenes. I was still young then. 1990. I was 41 then. I felt I still had time. Consequently, I worked behind the scenes. I was not courageous enough then, as well. Up to 2008, I felt as though I couldn’t continue to stay behind the scenes. So I participated in elections for the president of the Taiwan Association of University Professors and won.
And I led protests after that in the open. By 2007, I was 58. So I felt that if I waited even further, then I would not have enough time to do what I wanted to do. It’s by nine years since 2007. There have been some improvements, but I haven’t been able to fully accomplish what I set out to do.
I didn’t expect 318 to break out, but it wasn’t all that surprising for me. Perhaps it was from seeds planted earlier which sprouted. So this is how I understand the long-term development of social movements.
Many people, particularly in the first few years I began to protest, felt that my doing this was useless. So you have to advocate violent revolution. But the people who say this don’t do this themselves, hoping that I would do it for them. I don’t think violent revolution is the right option. Those who get hunted would probably be the people. Because you don’t have any weapons or resources to fight against the police and army. Nonviolent protest is probably the best means.
There might be legal punishment, but only if you select too radical methods. Otherwise you can continue to protest. There will be some price to be paid, but the movement can continue. And this depends on what we do to allow society understand why we would protest, using what means that are more suitable.
I believe that in these few years, the polices’ means of dealing with social movements have also seen some improvement. We need to tell the police that they can’t attack the people every time and, on the other hand, we also will tell the people not to attack the police. Because our protest is not towards the police, but towards those who make political decisions.
At the scene of a protest, what the people confront in terms of their emotions is the police, they have no way to think of the politicians behind them. It is very important for those leading protest to understand this. You have to have this understanding so that the movement won’t be eliminated by the government because of a moment of out of control emotions, with you being labelled as a violent group and being severely punished legally. The price is too high. This isn’t a smart means of doing things.
Brian Hioe: We discussed your view that the 318 movement wasn’t a Taiwanese independence movement earlier. What do you think that most people were opposed to? The KMT? China? The Black Box? Or free trade?
Tsay Ting-Kuei: There were people opposed to free trade.. And there were actually people that advocated for the black box. We opposed both the CSSTA and black box. Because the black box is a process and the KMT controlled over half of the legislature at that point in time. If you oppose the Black Box, you can ask, if it went according to legislative process, does that mean you should let it pass?
So I believe the black box was a false issue. Many groups were arguing that you should pass the cross-straits oversight bill. But it’s only when the KMT controls the legislature that you need the cross-straits oversight bill. Now that the DPP controls legislature, there’s no need to fight over this. It was a strategy for that unfavorable set of circumstances. You don’t have any way to block the process, you can only drag out the process by claiming first there is a need to have oversight before the bill is passed.
If the DPP wants to push the CSSTA through, we would have to adopt a new means of protest. Because the DPP was voted in the promise to the people that it would not try and pass the CSSTA. Of course, it’s position has changed a bit now. But if it attempts this, the people will oppose it.
As for free trade, I believe that it must be accepted under certain conditions. Taiwan is an island nation. If you don’t have trade, you would be unable to survive. So I don’t completely reject trade, whether this is towards China or America, but trade has to be conducted under the correct principles. Whether this is towards China or America. And there should be especial oversight over the details when it comes to China, because China hopes to use these means to control Taiwan economically. America less has this desire. So there’s less need to be so worried. What else was there?
Brian Hioe: Opposition to the KMT or China.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: I think there were these. What was lacking was opposition towards to the ROC government. [Laughs] Which is to say that most people opposed the KMT, because ECFA, the CSSTA, and etc. were created by the Ma administration. Behind Ma was China. And so opposing the KMT at that point in time was opposing allowing China’s influence to enter Taiwan.
Some people who opposed the black box, I believe that behind this was a false claim towards the media. After all, while on the surface, this might appear to be opposition to the black box, if there was no black box, wouldn’t the situation be the same? The KMT would just have to vote on the issue. But as for us, we oppose the ROC. This is also why the small decision making group would marginalize us, because our fundamental political platform was different.
Photo credit: billy1125/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What do you think the political slant of social movement participants is? We discussed ROC independence before. And many social movement participants say that they are left-wing, but I am not always sure why. Or what this means.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: Taiwan’s social movements have two primary divides. One is between independence and unification. And the other is between left and right. As for the ART and the Free Taiwan Party, which was founded as a political party by the ART, our stances that we’re on the left-wing of the pro-independence advocates. Unification and independence is easier to understand.
As for left-wing viewpoints, many’s people view as to what left means is standing on the side of the CCP. We don’t believe this. Left is having connection with the people at a grassroots level, standing with the people both within the economic system and on the social level. Making political decisions on the basis of the desire of the people at large. We believe that this is what it means to be politically left. There’s no connection to the CCP.
But some of the Taiwanese left sides with the CCP, so they support unification, and constitute the pro-unification left. Now there also is ROC independence. I would count this as right-wing, because this sides with large corporations and conglomerates.
The KMT advocates unification but they are also right-wing in terms of the social level. The DPP believes that Taiwan is not a part of China, but also sides with large corporations and conglomerates. We are independent.
Of course, we do not believe the Taiwan is a part of China, nor do we believe that the ROC is Taiwan. The DPP believes that the ROC is Taiwan. After 318, a lot of small parties appeared, such as the New Power Party. I believe that they are closer to the DPP, that they identify with the ROC as our country, and that while they want to distinguish themselves from the DPP, they are unable take any stances on standing for oppressed forces in Taiwanese society.
And they don’t dare to do this. Because many of their supporters may be upper middle class. As for the SDP, they also say that they are left, but they are very weak. And they also identify with the ROC, so far as I see. More pro-independence is the Radical Party. I also believe that the TSU more identifies with the ROC.
By that, I mean that they don’t believe that the ROC identifies with Taiwan. If we are to draw a sharp division between amending the constitution and replacing the constitution, some political parties may blur the lines between these. But my view is that if you don’t replace the constitution, you would be unable to make changes.
Amending the constitution is not replacing it. There was a demonstration yesterday, but that was to change the ROC constitution and not replacing it. It’s like the issue of the black box during the Sunflower movement. It’s a false issue, but it feels like it’s meaningful. That’s not the real aim, however. Because getting rid of “province” or the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, you would spend a lot of time. Why not get to the heart of the issue and resolve the fundamental issues?
It’s not just these two aspects of the constitution which need to be changed, as well. Regarding the Control Yuan, Examination Yuan, Fujian province, the Mongolian Affairs Commission, and there are many other things. So using these two issues to make it seem like a resolution to the issue is a mistake. Because people are tired of struggling, they latch onto this as a resolution to the issue, however. As I look at it, people proposing such things are deteriorating the ability of the movement to protest. We can agree to the aim, but we don’t agree to such means.
Brian Hioe: What do you think the influence of the Sunflower Movement was? Because some people will say that this lies in Ko P winning the Taipei mayoral election or Tsai Ing-Wen winning the presidential election, or the appearance of the Third Force. Maybe you could talk about the formation of the Free Taiwan Party.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: After the Sunflower Movement, this was a large stimulus for society. In Taiwanese history, there are some large events we can compare with this. One is in 1979, the Kaohsiung Incident took place. The demand was to end martial law. The demand of this was to set free executive power, you could say, since this was under martial law. But this required protest from 1979 to 1987, so this required eight years of protest. The second is in 1990, during the Wild Lily movement.
The movement was to open up the presidency and legislature for open elections. You could say that the demand was to set free legislative power, in order to allow the presidency and members of legislature to voted for by the people. The first open presidential elections took place in 1996, so there was a time lag of six years. In the middle, the DPP took power from 2000 to 2008 before Ma Ying-jeou took office and there was another transition of power. In 2014, the CSSTA required the gathering of protest forces to block unreasonable policy. I don’t that was just because of the CSSTA.
From 2008 to 2014, the KMT and Ma Ying-Jeou allowed Chinese influence to enter into Taiwan, which restricted society. The CSSTA was just a incident which released all this anger towards the KMT and China. This touches on Taiwan’s fundamental issue of its national status. So I believe that this is a very natural development but, afterwards, the DPP and NPP and other parties would use the desire for reform from society to win votes, using better conditions to attain their political interest. This is natural. For social movement, this is a leap forward. So I look forward to future social movements in Taiwan.
Photo credit: 綠魚/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: So do you believe that there will be a movement in Taiwanese society as large as the Sunflower Movement sometime in the future?
Tsay Ting-Kuei: It is not only that I believe that such a movement will happen, but I expect it. For example, after the Sunflower Movement, there was some formalization of structure which took place. In the 1990 Wild Lily Movement, I don’t know how much they prepared, because I only arrived back from the United States then. In 2014, I believe the Sunflower Movement was spontaneous. Social divisions gradually accumulated, but nobody had made preparations. If there had been, the course of the movement would had been different, I think that they would have understood the meaning of such large-scale protests better.
Again, the view was to only change the ROC system, but if you occupy the Legislative Yuan, then preserve the system, this is quite contradictory. The Legislative Yuan is the Legislative Yuan of the ROC. Of course, possibly because of this, the ROC government was more lax in punishing these people, whereas it has been more strict in punishing us. The point of departure is different, they would think that they aren’t their important enemy, but that we are.
My view is that Taiwanese society should, for the next social step forward, have a better planned protest movement which can resolve problems of Taiwanese sovereignty. Because the ROC existing in Taiwan is very unequal for Taiwanese, so I think this has to hit on the question of whether the ROC should continue to be allowed to exist in Taiwan. Because I believe this is how international society believes is something very undependable about Taiwan.
I attended a conference on Asian politics recently. In the future, in East Asia, it’s America, Japan, and South Korea which will ally against China, North Korea, and Russia. Because China believes that it has more and more money and is stronger and North Korea has nuclear weapons that can fire at Guam. Why should I listen to America’s views? Even if Trump is inconsistent in his speaking, America’s system will obviously lead America to make decisions primarily on the basis of American interest. This will not change. This is not inconsistent at all.
But if these two sides come into conflict, which side will Taiwan stand on? Because Taiwan is the ROC, and you look at the ROC’s troops, and they don’t seem like Taiwan’s troops. So for Taiwan to exist under the ROC, this is the largest uncertainty in the Asia Pacific region. People are not sure which direction that Taiwan will lean in.
I hope that the next time, there will be an awakening about these issues. But the current ruling party has not undergone such an awakening. I believe that this is the reason why the DPP does not have high approval ratings. Most people voted for them with clear intent, but they haven’t fulfilled their promises. They have their considerations, but I think this is too much.
My current plan is to try to push for these things in 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics will take place. I hope by then that Taiwan can participate under its own name. And the DPP can continue to hold power. Even if this is not ideal, to combat the KMT, the DPP is still larger, so I believe that there is still need to support the DPP maintaining power. But we will continue to protest. Our means of doing things is that we do not need Tsai Ing-Wen’s support because she confronts China and America on both sides.
So not speaking up for this is fine. But Taiwanese people need to demand this, to let China and America see the strength of the people and not dare to block this. Because the right to self-determination is the most fundamental right of the people. If people are very few and it seems like Tsai is doing this on her own, China and America would both step in, so I think the people should stand in front and Tsai Ing-wen should maintain the stability of the military and society. The last is using votes, such as Scotland or Catalan, to express the will to self-determination to allow what the views of the Taiwanese people are.
This is a means that the international society would support moreso. Because international society does not like to see war and would prefer to see votes. But in this preparation process, will Taiwanese people feel threatened or decide to live with this, regardless of who is in power? Some will say this because they haven’t lived through oppression, particularly young people. As for me, I can’t stand it again if an even worse political force than the KMT were to arise. I can only protest.
Brian Hioe: How do you think China looks at Taiwan’s political situation? And how do you think Taiwanese social movements can affect the international world?
Tsay Ting-Kuei: As for how China looks at Taiwan’s social movements, of course they oppose this, because China is a dictatorial country. They hope for everyday people to be obedient and obey the government. So they don’t like for there to be social movements in Taiwan or there to be resistance among the people. Whether in Taiwan or in China. But I think this should be more evident than ever. Because the ROC used to be at conflict with the PRC, with the ROC treating “communist bandits” and Taiwanese independence activists as its worst enemies.
As for the “communist bandits” themselves, they also treated Taiwanese independence activists as their enemies. [Laughs] But now the PRC is worried that the ROC will disintegrate, because if the ROC disintegrates, it doesn’t have a justification to bother Taiwan anymore. So now it tries to quietly support the ROC and the ROC’s view is that if it has quiet support from the PRC, this is fine. There’s no need to conflict with them. The Lee Ming-Che incident is an example of China bothering Taiwan.
Photo credit: Charlie Chang/Flickr/CC
I have no idea what Lee Ming-Che advocates himself, but at the very least, he was born in Taiwan, he grew up in Taiwan, and so he’s Taiwanese, no matter what he advocates or has done. He hasn’t killed anybody. So why would he be arrested and found guilty in China, which was not his country?
At this point, if China forces you to comply or can buy you off, they’ve won. That way, they don’t have to go to the trouble of fighting a war. So it claims Taiwan as part of it. And if Taiwan claims it is not part of China, it threatens Taiwan or tries to buy Taiwan up. It does these things. Looking at the long-term, the Taiwanese independence movement could also have some influence on China’s democracy. But this depends on letting the Chinese people know about this. Because it appears that the Chinese people have been quite thoroughly brainwashed by the CCP.
They can learn from nonviolent protest in Taiwan, because China has a history of violent revolution to overturn the government in the past. However, in these past few years, many countries have used nonviolent means to overturn authoritarian governments. If they can learn from this, I believe that would be helpful.
Brian Hioe: Do you think social movements in Taiwan can influence the international world? Perhaps what most people talk about is Hong Kong.
Tsay Ting-Kuei: In Hong Kong, there’s very direct influence. Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement took place after the Sunflower movement and I believe that organizationally, they probably were better developed than in Taiwan. There are some reasons for this. For example, let’s take the example of teachers. Taiwanese teachers were taught by the ROC system and stand on the side of the ROC.
But Hong Kong’s teachers were mostly taught under the British colonial period and so are more familiar with democracy. So more of Hong Kong’s teachers seem to support students, whereas in Taiwan, teachers opposed students. This is a difference in social background, but at there very least, Hong Kong’s students understanding and skills regarding nonviolent protest are also at a higher level.
As for international society, international society probably sees Taiwan’s issues as having dragged out a long time. Taiwanese people are also too quiet regarding international society. What they should express, they’re too afraid to. But they have been controlled by the ROC regarding what they state.
Protests would be reported on by international media, but because protests movements have limited resources, they have limited ability to have direct channels with international media. So if there is a means to create more connections when social movements break out, or to allow them know the aims, demands, and methods of a movement beforehand, this could lead to more international attention.