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Citizens flood Taipei's downtown in support of Sunflower Student Movement
Two weeks ago here in Taipei a large group of student activists took control of the congress building and have remained there despite police attempts to expel them.

On Sunday nearly half a million citizens filled the streets in front of the Presidential Office Building in support of the student action, many staying into the night to pressure Taiwan's president to respond to student demands. It was likely the second largest citizens' protest in the nation's history, though it may in fact have been the largest.

Taiwan's citizens are furious that the ruling party (the Kuomintang) and its current leader, President Ma Ying-Jeou, have used every means at their disposal to force through a controversial trade pact with China (the Service Trade Agreement) without proper legislative review. The trade pact gives Chinese investors unprecedented leverage power on Taiwan's economy, which would ultimately facilitate a future Chinese takeover of the island. President Ma's actions are seen by most people here as those of an autocrat rather than a democratically elected president. His approval rating before this crisis even began was under 10%, which makes his heavy-handed handling of the pact even harder to stomach.

If the country is on edge awaiting the outcome of this tense standoff, it is even more on edge this morning since a large gangster organization, with strong ties to the Mainland, yesterday threatened to attack the students and expel them from the congress building some time on April 1. This particular gangster organization isn't known for pulling April Fool's pranks.

All in all this is the most serious political crisis Taiwan has faced since becoming a democracy two decades ago.

So where is the American media?

Yes, there have been a few print articles covering the crisis in larger media venues, but to my knowledge there has been no televised media coverage. Also, the print articles only covered the initial student actions and the police response. When Sunday's huge protest rally showed Taiwanese largely behind the students (polls show around 70% support the student demands) American media coverage ceased.  

Again, as far as I can tell, not a single American network has sent a reporter with a camera to cover this. CNN's Asia bureau is in Hong Kong, just a jump across the water from here. Yet not a single CNN camera has appeared in Taipei. Apparently they're still too busy reporting on the missing Malaysian jet, a story they've now covered in well over fifty articles and a nonstop stream of video feed. Go take a glance at CNN's Asia page to see if this has changed since my writing.

I've long noted American media's under-reporting of Taiwan. But the recent near silence is beyond just under-reporting. I'd call it a soft news blackout. I may be wrong of course, it may just be journalistic incompetence or budget constraints that keep reporters away, but if CNN, for instance, can fly reporters back and forth across Asia dozens of times to cover the missing flight 370, you'd think they could manage at least a couple short hops from Hong Kong to cover the biggest political shakeup in Taiwan in decades.

Why is the current crisis in Taiwan important? Several reasons.

First, contrary to how it's usually depicted in Western media, Taiwan is not just a "city" or "small island". By population Taiwan is larger than Australia. Consider what that means. Imagine that two-hundred student activists seized Australia's Parliament House in Canberra and refused to leave, the standoff continuing for weeks. And that Australians in support of the students flooded the capital in protest of the prime minister. Would CNN be able to afford a camera on the ground? Would other networks send someone?

More important than population, however, or at least what should be important from a Western perspective: Taiwan is a vibrant multiparty democracy built by a culture that is largely Chinese. This is unique in the world. And this democracy is now under siege.

China has long claimed Taiwan as part of its territory, to the degree that Taiwanese landmarks are regularly featured in Chinese publications promoting the glories of the motherland. In recent years, as economic ties to the Mainland have increased, some Taiwanese media companies have been taken over by Chinese investors or conglomerates. That the government here has allowed this shows two things: the willingness of many of Taiwan's elites to let the country merge with China; unawareness among much of the population as to just how serious a threat to democracy these media mergers really are.

Taiwan is a young democracy, and it is evident to Westerners living here that many in the older generation don't conceive political issues in democratic terms, but retain more paternalist ideas of government. The younger generation, however, is quite different in its political thinking, as has been proven by the recently formed Sunflower Student Movement. Both their actions and words show that these students are sharp proponents of democracy. An early article in the BBC (British media is doing much better on this than American media) stressed the students' seriousness and dedication.

The next few days should be eventful here in Taipei. Nobody knows how this standoff will end. With this diary, however, I want to stress a different point: Nobody watching TV in the States even knows this standoff is happening. Why not? Is there a systemic cause of this under-reporting of Taiwan?

Another good example of British media coverage at the Guardian.

Two Kossacks have previously written on these events, here and here.

Originally posted to EricMaderLin on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 08:37 PM PDT.

Also republished by Way of Dragon.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Chinese Takeover of the Island? (0+ / 0-)

    Under the 1972 Shanghai Communique, the United States recognized that Taiwan is part of China.  In the wake of the crisis in the Ukraine, we all know how sacred the United States takes national sovereignty and the territorial integrity of nation states.  How could China takeover what is already part of it?  How could the United States object if China decided to exert its sovereignty over part of its territory?

    I'm sure the Obama Administration feels just as supportive of China's territorial integrity as it does about that of the Ukraine, and that it would be as bad for the U.S. to interfere with China's assertion of sovereignty over Taiwan as it has been for Russia to interfere with Ukraine's assertion of sovereignty over Crimea.

    This aggression will not stand, man.

    by kaleidescope on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 09:36:25 PM PDT

  •  If you're in Taiwan (0+ / 0-)

    How do you know there hasn't been any televised news coverage in the US?  At any rate, I don't know anybody younger than my Mom who gets their news from TV.

    Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre.

    by Sky Net on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 11:59:09 PM PDT

    •  Well, I have access to cable TV here, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      waterstreet2013, unfangus

      nearly every channel, and news station web sites usually post clips of what they've broadcast in any case.

      Nearly all younger people get most of their news online--of course I know that. But TV and cable news are still important sources for huge swaths of the American population. Do you disagree?

      As to your implication that anyone as old is your Mom is politically irrelevant, I have nothing to say. It speaks for itself.

      •  news (0+ / 0-)

        You get more tv news than me then.  I live overseas, too, but haven't seen an American news broadcast in years.  Even with cable I'd never see the NBC Nightly News.

        I wonder what percentage of Americans get their news from TV as their primary source.  That'd be an interesting stat.

        Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre.

        by Sky Net on Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 02:35:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Most Americans are not aware that (0+ / 0-)

    there is a difference between one China and the other, or even that there are two Chinas. So this whole story would be confusing to most people. The American media covers stories they think their audience has interest in, and the truth (for better or worse) is that for most people in America Taiwan is not an interesting topic.

  •  Blackout because the treaty is like the TPP (5+ / 0-)

    transPacific Partnership being pushed by Obama and other center right Democrats giving local control over laws to an investor class located somewhere else.

    Life is just a bowl of Cherries, that stain your hands and clothes and have pits that break your teeth.

    by OHdog on Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 04:44:02 AM PDT

  •  How's the size of the crowd outside (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EricMaderLin, eyo, TakeSake, unfangus

    the Yuan holding up ??? That's a big part of protecting the Sunflower Movement students. As long as you can keep 10,000 blockers around the building, there's no way to organize a low-violence eviction.

    This is an Occupy Taiwan action. 100%. From Spain and North Africa to New York, to Frankfort, to Kiev and Taiwan.

    -- We are our own leaders
    -- We oppose corruption
    -- We want jobs

    For the Sunflower kids the corruption angle is as important as money and nationalism. The Big Money gangs in China have connections with Kuomintang and Ma Ying-Jeou. KMT were crooks 70 years ago and that's what they do best.

    Yanukovich out of Ukraine is cut from the same cloth.

    Let's hope that Occupy Taiwan has close ties with police management, similar to Frankfort and Kiev.

    Here in the U.S. the success of Occupy has gone widest where U.S. Park Police and P.E.R.F. members work together with Occupiers to support large scale peaceful protests. (USPP volunteered the steps of Federal Hall across from NYSE. Then protected the Occupiers from NYPD and Ray Kelly's allies in the 1%ers' security forces.)

    Nonviolence rocks!

    "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- Rand Ryan-Paul von Koch

    by waterstreet2013 on Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 05:18:49 AM PDT

    •  The crowd outside the Legislative Yuan (4+ / 0-)

      is holding up well. Yesterday's threat from a gangster boss to send in thugs didn't lead to anything, as it became obvious the police wouldn't step aside. I shouldn't say it didn't lead to anything--it led to beefing up the crowd of supporters outside.

      Yes, the KMT has long had strong ties to gangsters, it's part of Chinese political culture in any case. And the corruption of all the usual sorts has of course been rife over the years under KMT-led martial law. So Taiwanese were elated to see the rise of the opposition party, the DPP, and finally the first DPP head of state, Chen Shui-Bian. I remember that elation well, I was here when it happened, as the vote counts were coming in I headed out onto the streets and people were milling around, glowing, giddy.

      Unfortunately their boy from Tainan, their very own president, ended up doing his best to be as corrupt as his predecessors. I could see as much when news came out not long after his inauguration that his son was spotted driving around Taipei in a Ferrari. It all slogged on from there until finally, well, you know the story.

      My whole take on Taiwan's politics is that to the degree it is based on ethnic difference (the Mainland Chinese team vs. the Taiwanese team)--to that extent it will just be a return of the same old thing.

      What cheers me about the Sunflower Student Movement is they seem to a decent degree to have gotten beyond the ethnic issues. Here the parties are largely divided on ethnic lines, so this is perhaps a significant break in the rough duopoly that has run Taiwan since 2000. Like Occupy, the Sunflower Students are focused more on systemic problems that affect the whole population. Regarding their connections to the police, the willingness of police to give them space and resist having to crack down, I've gotten mixed reports so far

      •  Occupy Taiwan got copies of everything (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        EricMaderLin

        we had from OWS.

        They are also proteges of Occupy Frankfort, like Kiev, getting themselves focused and disciplined. The Frankfort bunch have raised the level of the game everywhere.

        "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- Rand Ryan-Paul von Koch

        by waterstreet2013 on Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 10:55:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Two Words: TPP and Neoliberalism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EricMaderLin, unfangus

    OHdog is absolutely correct. It's astounding that the Trans-Pacific Partnership did not make it into this article. The reasons for the American media blackout are extremely clear: this is a protest movement against a free trade agreement. If it is lazily analyzed at being only about China-Taiwan and pseudo-national sovereignty, the extremely important connection to neoliberal global governance is made invisible.

    There is an excellent article in Japanese on how the Taiwan protests may influence the anti-TPP movement in Japan. Americans would do well to connect the dots to the Madison, WI capitol occupation and the Occupy movement that followed it, in addition to the Istanbul and Brazil protests last summer. The occupation of public spaces in city centers looks similar in form because the protests are all against the same overarching enemy: neoliberal rationality.  

    •  So: Corporate media under-reporting of or (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      unfangus, milkbone

      systematic misrepresentation of protest movements ANY time it is a matter of citizens against a free-trade agreement. Yes, it makes eminent sense.

      What's interesting in this regard is that according to an editorial letter I read yesterday in the local press, ratifying the Service Trade Agreement with China would effectively exclude Taiwan from future entry of the TTP.

      The writer is arguing that the current deal with China is bad for Taiwan because it will keep Taiwan out of TTP. Of course this has nothing to do with your point, as corporate media policy would be "All and any protest against free trade is bad" since "These protests tend to link up".

      Indeed: Link up in the movement against neoliberalism.

  •  Eric, also, where's the LEFT (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EricMaderLin

    Not just the US media, the Left is silent. Nothing on Alternet, Counterpunch, The Nation, etc. Taiwan doesn't exist. AFAIK the three posts here are the only ones on progressive website sites.

    Vorkosigan

    •  Absolutely--where is the left? As an old (0+ / 0-)

      Taiwan hand, like me, you probably have the same experience I have of Taiwan's odd invisibility in the international psyche. Not exactly invisibility, but almost as if Taiwan were in a kind of small parallel universe, that as soon as one began speaking about Taiwan in any forum a kind of alternate universe were being evoked: sometimes the map shows nothing at all but blue sea where the island lies; other times the island appears, but when it does it's on a kind of alternate, dodgy map, one that will quickly be set aside.

      This is true in culture, in sports ("Chinese Taipei"), in film, certainly in news reporting relative to politics.

      This time I've been especially struck by American corporate media's total failure to send video cameras here to cover the standoff. FrederickPoland has offered a pretty good thesis as to why. But I think the factors behind this blackout are various.

      Yesterday a talk show broadcast here in Taipei revealed that a Chinese corporation, 榮豐集團 (Grand Harvest Maeta Group Holdings, Ltd.), had recently either bought or invested very heavily in CNN's Asia-Pacific branch. The deal, apparently, had just gone through in recent weeks. I don't know if this claim is true and cannot find any confirmation of it online. If it is, however, voila, CNN's silence on the protests in Taiwan is crystal clear. I'm going to keep sleuthing a little, but don't expect to find anything.

      I didn't see this show myself, but its contents were reported to me by a very mature, savvy, trustworthy Taiwanese friend. Who was equally surprised by the revelation, if indeed it is true.

  •  small update (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TakeSake, EricMaderLin

    It is about 5:20PM here in Taipei.  There were rumors today that President Ma was going to have the police evict the students from the Legislature today.  As a result my wife, sister-in-law and two others went to the Legislature to "Man the Barricades".  Don't know when they will be back.

    These 4 individuals are not students, four of them are in their late 50's, 60's.  The fourth is in his 40's.  They were at the big demonstration on Sunday.  They have never taken part in a protest demonstration in their life before this one.

    The opposition to the proposed services trade pact with China is widespread among Taiwanese.

    David

    •  Yes, it is definitely something most accounts (0+ / 0-)

      of the Sunflower Movement could be clearer about. This is largely a movement begun by students, but it is not simply a student movement. Most Taiwanese (around 70%) support sending the trade pact back. The rally Sunday had all age groups present in sizable numbers, even many seniors.

      加油 to you and family, David!

  •  Link Roundup (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EricMaderLin

    I've rounded this up and other pieces on a linkfest/roundup on my blog

    http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/...

    Michael

  •  It's wired to hear Americans say not interested (0+ / 0-)

    in Taiwan situation, and Taiwan should be a part of China by agreement.

    Ironically, USA always try to interfere political and even military issue in Taiwan, which including the development of nuclear weapon (Ref: so-called CIA agent Chang Hsien-yi). If Americans are not interested in Taiwan's affair, or even consider Taiwan is a part of China, then why there is a detector on the nuclear reaction plant in National Ching-Hua University to stop the development of nuclear weapon, or why Taiwan Government is not allow to purchase weapon from other countries? Actually, leaving Taiwan along can achieve that "I'd rather both of these countries be conquered than to risk seeing my city vaporized". But in fact, there is no way USA leave Taiwan to China.

    Anyway, as an citizen of Taiwan (ROC), I see how USA and EU treat Taiwan: a country. If Taiwan is not a country, why there is ESTA and visa-free program for Taiwanese and not for the residents in China? Formally we're not a country recognized in UN, but in fact we are.

  •  Is this Democracy? (0+ / 0-)

    I disagree with your choice of words "democracy under siege" What do you think would happen if a bunch of students in US took over Congress? You can bet violent action will take place and yet America is suppose to be the role model of democracy.

    The students went too far.

    Yes you can protest, but their are laws and regulations in place where you need to register before you go on strike. Yet they didn't.  When you ambushed a government building such as a legislative court in some county this could be viewed as coup d'etat and these students could be charged with treason.

    Moreover, the political flavor is strong in this one. It is undeniable that DPP has influence in these protests, which corrupts the pure intention of this whole situation.

    Democracy needs to be built upon respect of laws, legislature, and due process. Students can't just take over the building and paralyze the entire country, especially when the students can not represent the entire population of the people in Taiwan. There are other legislation pending to be reviewed that affects everyday citizens.

    Another thing I would like to point out. The whole Sunflower movement started out with great intention, but it is falling apart because there were no precisely established goals and negotiative terms to begin with. They begin by wanting more transparent process, but later turns out they want to back out from ECFA completely, and they are not willing to negotiate and holding the entire country hostage. You CAN NOT scope creep like this without willing to negotiate, that itself is barbaric and serves the country absolutely zero goods. This is similar but worse than the Tea Party protesters during the Obamacare shenanigan.

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