Date
24 January 2017
Tsai Ing-wen's landslide election victory in January was a repudiation of the previous government's pro-China policies. Sunflower Movement protesters (inset) occupy the Taiwanese legislature. Photos: Bloomberg, Reuters
Tsai Ing-wen's landslide election victory in January was a repudiation of the previous government's pro-China policies. Sunflower Movement protesters (inset) occupy the Taiwanese legislature. Photos: Bloomberg, Reuters

Why Hongkongers look at Taiwan with a certain longing

Hong Kong people had mixed feelings when they watched the inauguration of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday.

They saw a leader, who was elected with 6.89 million votes, speak for all Taiwanese, especially on transnational issues that have impeded the island’s development for decades.

On Monday, her government dropped charges against 126 people who occupied the legislature during a protest against a trade pact with China two years ago.

The protest, which came to be known as the “Sunflower Movement”, grew out of frustrations among ordinary citizens who felt they got a raw deal.

The protesters took over the legislative building for 23 days and succeeded in forcing the previous government to shelve its implementation.

The movement helped propel the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to victory in January, making it the largest bloc in the Legislative Yuan.

Premier Lin Chuan later said in a statement that the Sunflower Movement was a “political matter, not a simple legal matter”.

“Under the principles of a little more harmony, a little less conflict, we will be as lenient as possible and withdraw this legal complaint,” he said.

Lin said the protesters’ demand for closer oversight of cross-strait deals is a commonly accepted principle, with lawmakers studying a transparent legal mechanism.

There’s no doubt the Sunflower Movement was also a political campaign and could have been settled with a political solution.

But Tsai understood the core issue behind it — dark-room politics between then Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang and mainland China’s Communist Party.

The Kuomintang government tried to bypass the legislature when it signed the trade pact, ostensibly to fast-track cross-strait relations under then President Ma Ying-jeou.

Tsai’s landslide election victory was a repudiation of Ma’s pro-China policies that relied on the mainland to sustain the economy.

It gave her administration a wide mandate to overturn the legal process, thereby allowing it to drop the charges against the protesters.

Not surprisingly, Kuomintang lawmakers are angry at the decision.

They are accusing the new government of disrespect for the law and of trivializing the illegal occupation of the legislature.

They conveniently ignore the fact that the protesters were forced to take action because the previous administration was blind to public demands regarding the trade agreement.

Now Taiwan people have a new voice they hope will reflect their interests to Beijing in a fair and judicious manner.

Hong Kong people can only watch Taiwanese democracy in action with a sense of wistfulness.

A regular, direct election of a leader every four years is no doubt a test of political maturity and strength of democratic institutions.

But that is not an option for Hong Kong people.

Theirs is a selection process done on a stage with a deep red background. The candidates have to be approved by Beijing.

Even the police have a political duty to Beijing to suppress all forms or appearances of dissent such as happened in the 2014 pro-democracy protests and this year’s Mong Kok clashes.

Many were arrested during the course of the 79-day street occupation amid charges of police brutality.

Some charges were dropped but many protesters were prosecuted. All emerged from the ordeal less certain about their rights and freedoms.

The changes in Taiwan under a new leader show a government that is trying its best to create a harmonious and inclusive society that is free to voice its concerns.

Taiwanese will be keeping an eye on Tsai whether she lives up to her election promises.

And Hong Kong people will continue to have mixed feelings about their cousins across the water.

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SC/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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