Taiwanese Students End Three-Week Occupation of Parliament

by Noah Simon | April 15, 2014

Taiwanese Students Occupying the Parliament Building

Taiwanese Students Occupying the Parliament Building. (Wikimedia Commons)

On April 10, students in Taipei ended their occupation of the parliament building after Taiwan Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng assured them that one of their main demands will be met: a review of the controversial Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) will be delayed until an oversight law is enacted that would allow greater transparency over future negotiations and agreements with China.

Chen Wei-ting, a prominent student leader during the campaign, emphasized that their campaign is not over, saying “it’s time for us to return this movement to broader Taiwan society, where we will continue the struggle”.

On April 1, legislators from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan staged a sit-in to block the review of the trade pact reached with China. DPP lawmakers are now working to reach an agreement with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on proposals for the oversight bill. Many of the students who protested support a particular oversight law that would include detailed supervision by the Taiwanese public.

A mass rally on March 30 was held in Taipei after student leaders and activists rejected talks with President Ma Ying-jeou. Student leader Lin Fei-fan explained that the president failed to specify a fixed time or date for the talks, and did not agree to hold the meeting in a public venue.

Police estimated there were roughly 100,000 participants at this rally, but organizers claim there were around 500,000 in attendance. While the number is most likely somewhere in between, it is believed to be the largest demonstration in Taiwanese history.

Protesters carried signs reading “defend democracy, withdraw the trade deal”. Many protesters wore black shirts and yellow headbands to symbolize their struggle, which was dubbed “The Sunflower Movement”.

The movement first began on March 18, when students occupied the parliament building in opposition to the trade pact that would increase economic ties between Beijing and Taiwan. The students say the CSSTA was approved undemocratically because it was forced through a committee in under 30 seconds. Opponents of the pact are also worried that the deal will increase Beijing’s influence over Taiwan, as well as threaten small and medium sized businesses.

It is evident that the occupation of the parliament building required substantial planning. Students used Google drive and Google maps to coordinate where materials were needed, who could supply them, and when they would be delivered. As a result, students were able to gather a large amount of food, water, and medical supplies in addition to laptops, computers, and tablets to maintain their presence online.

Inside the building, protesters piled up large amounts of chairs and tied them together to block entrances, and walls were decorated with pictures of historic democracy activists in Taiwan.

The students went to great lengths to publicize their campaign to international audiences. Live streams of the occupation from within the parliament building were broadcast in English. Some students even answered questions from internet users around the world regarding the purpose of their protest. In addition, students raised money to advertise their campaign in the New York Times, where they informed international audiences about their struggle.

The occupation of the parliament building was unprecedented in Taiwanese history. Albert Lin, a Taiwanese activist, believes that the younger generation realizes this particular case will impact the political future of Taiwan. Lin also believes that the younger generation has a more unified vision, a greater sense of urgency, and that international occupy movements also influenced their recent actions.

While Taiwanese students have achieved one of their main demands, President Ma has insisted that the trade pact will not be cancelled.

Chen Wei-ting, a ‘co-organizer of the movement’, said, “Our next step is to start pressuring local legislators, one at a time, to support our demands”. It is not yet clear what other actions students may take in their campaign to pressure the government to cancel the trade pact with China.