While the rest of the world has been preoccupied with the Crimean coup (and not without some justification), politics in Taiwan has taken a critical turn, one that shouldn’t be ignored.
For nearly six decades since Chiang Kai-shek sought refuge on the island in 1949, Taiwan’s leaders have been strongly anti-Communist. After the Chiang family’s reign ended in 1988, President Lee Teng-hui democratized the islands (Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu), including winning a mandate from the voters for his final four-year-term in 1996. Lee’s anti-Communism was never questioned, and the voters maintained that by electing Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party to succeed him.
In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou was elected on the Kuomintang banner (Chiang and Lee’s party – although Lee left to form the anti-Communist Taiwan Solidarity Union), ostensibly as a fellow anti-Communist. However, after his re-election in 2012, Ma signed a cross-straits trade agreement on services with the Chinese Communist Party. It is an agreement that has led to great concern among many Taiwanese about CCP influence in Taiwan’s economy.
This is where things went off the rails.
Ma’s allies in the legislature appeared to turn back on their agreement to conduct a detailed review of the pact (among its many problems, it might run afoul of the World Trade Organization agreement – Taipei Times). In response, a group of anti-Communist students seized control of the legislature, and ground all business to a halt.
For those manning the protest (and the half-million who supported them over the weekend – Taipei Times), it is a shining moment in popular democracy. I’m guessing the Kuomintang backers see it more as a lawless mob.
For us in “the west” – who are more used to legislatures acting without large protests shutting them down – it may all seem a bit confusing. It shouldn’t be.
The key fact is this: Taiwan’s voters have never openly selected a pro-CCP candidate. Ma was widely perceived as a strong anti-Communist in 2008, and he had yet to really shed that image in 2012. Those of us inside and outside Taiwan who simply stopped trusting Kuomintang as a matter of principle had a hard time convincing the voters (I include myself because I have long supported the DPP).
Unfortunately, we are being proven right, and the Taiwanese people have clearly decided enough is enough.
Ma has no political mandate for the services deal with the CCP. He should recognize that and withdraw it from the legislature.