Taiwan’s government does not have a robust system of checks and balances as the US does. Instead, has the near identical system of making laws as China’s government: new law doesn’t come from Congress or the President, but from the “Premiere”, a non-elected bureaucrat who heads the Executive branch comprised of other non-elected bureaucrats—in Taiwan the Executive Yuan, in China the State Council. The “puppet” nature of Taiwan’s democracy sheds some light on Taiwanese’s overall frustration with their government. It is reflected in the KMT’s recent proud remarks—that excessive power remains in the hands of the Executive branch, unlike Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution—read yesterday’s Taipei Times report for the inside baseball.
According to the Taipei Times article, if the Legislature does not approve the law proposed by the executive bureaucrats, then they have the authority to pass the motion into law as if it had been voted on. This reduces the legislative process to little more than a game of charades. Taiwan is not a true democracy; it is a complexly cloaked dictatorship. That dictatorship is now being threatened by intelligent students and their vast support from around the country. Sunflower movement students have occupied the legislature. The Taipei permanent establishment is not happy.
On Monday, the Speaker of Taiwan’s legislature, a tenured maverick within the KMT, Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), surprised his fellow KMT legislators in a public announcement that he would not allow the legislature to continue any further discussion over the current, secretive, and controversial trade pact on the table until another law was enacted that would give the legislature and the people transparent control over Taiwan’s international trade laws. Other KMT legislators immediately responded by saying that they had been “sold out” by Wang. The Sunflower students, however, responded more positively than the KMT, that they would peacefully leave on Thursday—and they kept their promise.
According to an independent poll, most of Taiwan sympathizes with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Sunflower movement. These statistics directly contradict reports overseen and disseminated by Taiwan’s government (the National Development Council) suggesting that the public ostensibly sympathizes with the KMT-dominated legislature and KMT President, Ma, who currently has only 9% popular opinion.
David Brown, an adjunct professor at John Hopkins who sits on the AIT board of Taiwan-US relations (having a resume largely indebted to the US State Department) criticized the Sunflower movement in a letter. However, Brown has drawn academic criticism in the UK, as well as slander accusations from the opposition DPP. Brown’s controversial remarks have also been noted by the Taipei Times. Taiwan expat bloggers have also criticized Brown for his letter.
Especially considering that the students left willingly, Brown’s and other criticism has proven unnecessary and inaccurate. Had these critics had their way, there may have been injury in the process of expelling the peaceful students by force. Instead, they left peacefully and without incident. It is undetermined at this time whether Brown and his fellow critics would have preferred the the theory of force or the peaceful arrangement which has, in fact, proven effective.
Brown never lived in Asian countries as a long-term expatriate. He mostly knows Asia through the comfort of Washington or during brief visits to Asia at meetings where everyone wears a tie. The United States democratic republic has survived over two centuries—a near record for democracies. By contrast, Taiwan’s democracy is exceptionally young. Mistakes of youth are often difficult for older generations to understand, including David Brown.
While an unarmed student-led occupancy of the US Capital building might never be tolerated in America, as the Legislative Yuan’s occupancy seems to have continued in Taiwan, there are some stark differences between Taiwan and the United States that David Brown should have been aware of…
Taiwan is not a global superpower with half of the world trying to nuke it back to the stone age. The main country aiming missiles at Taiwan is China, which reflects Beijing’s petty “pride” more than any political strategy. The US, however, is hated by at least half of the world. Someone is always attempting to smuggle a dangerous suitcase into the Capital building. Not so with Taiwan.
Unlike Taiwan, the US has a legitimate government of the people, however much corruption the US indeed has. While disturbing Taiwan’s legislature seems to have no effect on the island’s puppet democracy, it would legitimately interrupt the legislative process in the US. The main effect that the occupied legislature has had on Taiwan is its exposure of truth to the public: that Taiwan’s government truly does believe that it can continue the legislative process without its puppet legislature. Taiwan’s Executive branch has unabashedly claimed such power, even as the student-led protests developed.
In the United States Legislature, political parties often play “rules games” to block legislation. One of these is known as the “filibuster”. Another tactic relates to “cloture” in the Senate. However, in a puppet democracy such a Taiwan, if the Legislature filibusters or prevents cloture, the Executive branch of non-elected bureaucrats will simply declare a proposed bill as “legally passed” after three months. America’s legislature plays the same games, they just smile a little more when they do it. In Taiwan, the only stall tactics available include locking the doors and allowing a group of disgruntled students to occupy the main chamber of their legislature.
If US Congress decides to go against the will of the people, there are several alternatives the people can take. Any elected Congressman can introduce a new law in Congress. Taiwanese elected legislators, however, do not have this power. Laws in Taiwan are only introduced by the Executive Yuan, which is made of appointed bureaucrats whom no one votes for. This is the key element of Taiwan’s government that makes it a “puppet democracy”. When the government does not allow the people the freedom to introduce their own laws, peacefully occupying a legislature may be the most ethical option during a nation-wide controversy. If anyone in the United States is to critique what is “proper procedure” in Taiwan, their puppet democracy’s law-making process deserves more scrutiny than peaceful students. But, David Brown was not elected either. He too has a resume with “bureaucracy” written all over it. This may help explain why he seems to agree with his bureaucratic counterparts in Taiwan.
Taiwan is also a country of relative peace. Most of the people don’t have guns. In the US, protesters would be more likely to be carrying weapons and excessive force from the police—whether or not it is ethical or legal—would be more foreseeable. In Taiwan, one bloody-faced protester could cost a politician the next election or spark an entire investigation into the responsible bureaucrat. This is not the first student protest that involved police. In 1959 a group of students demonstrators required action from the police when their university President instructed the police that, if even one student was injured by the police, he would personally risk his life to defend the students from the very police he called on. The United States does not have this kind of culture of peace nor the kind of respect that young and old generations have for each other in Taiwan.
The Sunflower students are remarkably peaceful and clean. They don’t litter. They aren’t having illicit sex as the “occupy movement” in America is known for. They conserve water. And, though they have many banners and some overturned tables, most of their premises they occupy are in good order. The loudest complaint the Deputy at the Executive Yuan was that students allegedly ate his suncakes—which sparked a running gag across Taiwan. Actually, the missing suncakes had been taken by his own staff before the student protest incident. When State Legislatures have been met with protesters in America, they were neither as peaceful, respectful, and clean as the student protesters. If American police encountered such exemplary students, they might not know how respond. Neither do the Taiwanese police.
Depending on which polls one uses, 60-80% of Taiwan supports the students. It is difficult for any political leader to take harsh action against such national opposition. More importantly, the United States rarely sees as much unity and agreement as the Sunflower movement is cultivating in their nation.
Taiwan is a young and emerging democracy. Old power structures don’t fall quietly. As freedom and governance by consent of the governed emerge in Taiwan, the best comparison to Taiwan’s situation would be the American Revolution. By those standards, Taiwan raises the bar for America. In defense of the letter by Taiwanese Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), which David Brown criticized, I’ll agree with Joseph Wu: perhaps David Brown should visit Taiwan and speak to different students. I add that he should read more of his own nation’s history before criticizing peaceful revolutionaries who march on the other side of the world while he sleeps.
The Sunflower students occupying Taiwan’s legislature have demonstrated more consistency and spoken more truth in the last three weeks than, arguably, in the last three decades of Taiwan’s adolescent democracy. In a Forbes interview between Donald Trump and two of his children, Donald summarized the same old problem that many people have, including Taiwan’s young executive and legislative branches, “The one thing I would say for both of you is you have to keep focused. And you’re not always focused, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that you’re both very young.”
- Sunflower students to leave Taiwan’s legislature Thursday (chinadailymail.com)
- Sunflower Movement: A day on the ground in Taiwan protest (photos) (chinadailymail.com)
- College students are China’s hope for democracy; Over 100,000 protest in Taiwan (chinadailymail.com)
- Mass protests in Taiwan explode into Executive Parliament: Has “Asian Spring” begun? (chinadailymail.com)
- Debunking myths: Was CIA involved with Taiwan’s demonstrations? (chinadailymail.com)
- Executive Yuan passes oversight bill (taipeitimes.com)
- LEGISLATIVE SIEGE: Wang-Ma feud reaches ’round two’ (taipeitimes.com)
- Taiwan student protestors go on Reddit to promote and spread the Sunflower Movement (thisweekinasia.wordpress.com)
- Student leader pledges nonviolent protest Sun. (thedailyblogreport.wordpress.com)
- Sunflower movement set to enter tense standoff phase (wantchinatimes.com)
- People in southern Taiwan join protest against China trade pact (wantchinatimes.com)
- Say Goodbye to ‘Peaceful Unification’ (thediplomat.com)
- Protests Won’t Undermine Taiwan’s Reputation (thediplomat.com)
- 3 Injured During Early Morning Raid on Remaining Taiwan Occupy Protesters (revolution-news.com)