Re-assessing the March Sunflower Student Movement
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 18, 2014
Summary: Taiwan is rapidly slouching toward closed door status, and losing its
competitiveness. The foreign media has concluded that Taiwan has left
itself behind. People on Taiwan desperately need to reevaluate the
meaning and impact of the Sunflower Student Movement, and correct its
Full Text Below:
Years from now, when historians recall Taiwan in 2014, they will probably arrive at a number of realizations. A local election will be held at the end of the year. The March Sunflower Student Movement combined a student movement with a social movement. Disasters large and small followed one after the other. More than a few officials were forced to step down for varying reasons. The prestige of both the ruling and opposition parties plumbed new lows. During the remaining quarter of the year, most would agree that there was little joy or glory in Taiwan during 2014.
Some have deliberately inflated the historical significance of the Sunflower Student Movement. They would have us believe it occupies a place of honor among Taiwan's student movements, social movements, and democratic evolution. The movement illegally obstructed the operations of a democratically elected legislature for over a month, yet received considerable public recognition and support. It eventually achieved its goal. It enabled the opposition to block the legislative process. If we are determined to assign it any additional significance, the movement may have enabled the green camp to stage two political shows.
When historians evaluate the significance of events on Taiwan in 2014, they are sure to mention the March Sunflower Student Movement and the signing of the PRC-ROK FTA. Most historians will arrive at such a conclusion. For Taiwan and South Korea, 2014 has been a critical year. It has widened the competitive gap between the two economies. South Korea continued its advance in the direction of major powers undergoing globalization. Taiwan on the other hand, clung to its closed door policy and spun its wheels.
In other words, student and opposition party leaders are patting themselves on the back over the "success" of the Sunflower Student Movement, even as South Koreans triumphantly patted themselves on the back for elbowing aside their Taiwan-based competitors and leaving them in the dust.
This is why in early August, a Wall Street Journal editorial took aim at Taiwan with an editoral entitled "Taiwan Leaves Itself Behind." The editorial was blunt. If the government on Taiwan maintains its cross-Strait trade barriers, it will only hurt itself. The reason is simple. Taiwan and South Korea are the Mainland's biggest trading partners. Taiwan's export commodities are petrochemicals, iron, steel, textiles, and machinery. These overlap South Korea's exports anywhere from 50% to 80%. If Mainland China and South Korea sign an FTA this year, most South Korean products will enjoy zero-tariff access to the Mainland. Taiwan will then be in serious trouble.
Few people recall the situation when the two sides signed ECFA in 2012. The South Korean media was wracked with anxiety and uncertainty. They feared cross-Strait industrial cooperation and a complementary production chain which would probably exclude South Korean industry. That was the reason they coined the term "Chiwan." They were vigilant. A mere two years later however, their worries failed to materialize. Instead South Korea picked up the pace. It concluded the Korea-US and Korea-Europe Free Trade Agreements. It then looked to a Korea-PRC Free Trade Agreement. Meanwhile, Taiwan sat on its hands.
Of course Korea is not the only economy that grew in 2014. In June and July of this year alone, when Taiwan was still experiencing ongoing catastrophes and mired in internal bickering, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Mainland China. The US and the Mainland accelerated dialogue on an investment agreement. Premier Li Keqiang visited Britain to negotiate direct RMB-pound exchanges. Germany, the United States, Britain and other major powers frequently interact with the Mainland. All of this affects Taiwan's trade competitiveness in services as well as goods. Meanwhile, the Cross-Strait Agreement Oversight Regulations bill remains stalled in the Legislative Yuan. Taiwan businesses must watch from the sidelines as other countries aggressively carve up the Mainland market. Taiwan has benefitted from the ECFA early harvest list. But follow-up consultations have stagnated. Others come and go. Meanwhile, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, "Taiwan Leaves Itself Behind."
Unfortunately, despite the obvious signs, many are still wandering through the fog of the March Sunflower Student Movement. Yes, they succeeded in occupying the temple of democracy. Yes, they successfully humiliated the head of state and the premier. Yes, they successfully seized the bully pulpit. Yes, they successfully obstructed the STA, essential to Taiwan's competitiveness. On the surface, they won. But in fact they merely relegated themselves to the role of political tools on the fringes of the DPP. Was there a loser? Yes there was. The real loser was Taiwan's competitiveness.
SEF Vice Chairman Kao Koong-lian recently noted that the Mainland is not about to halt its progress merely because Taiwan has adopted a closed door policy. Taiwan must increase its competitiveness. Only then can it turn a threat into an opportunity. Kao Koong-lian's assessment is an appropriate footnote to Taiwan's global dilemma. Put more plainly, closing Taiwan's doors will not make the world stop spinning. Taiwan's market is too small. It can never do more than go with the flow. It can never expect the world to revolve around it. Unfortunately many on Taiwan are still patting themselves on the back for successfully closing Taiwan's doors.
The March Sunflower Student Movement involved a complex confluence of forces. It included students and non-students, opponents of capitalism, opponents of concentrated wealth, opponents of financial consortia, opponents of growth, opponents of nuclear power, opponents of the KMT, opponents of Ma Ying-jeou, opponents of imbalanced cross-Strait economic and political relations, extremist opponents of Mainland China, i.e., supporters of Taiwan independence, and even some inveterate street protesters.
Taiwan is rapidly slouching toward closed door status, and losing its competitiveness. The foreign media has concluded that Taiwan has left itself behind. People on Taiwan desperately need to reevaluate the meaning and impact of the Sunflower Student Movement, and correct its grievous errors.
亦是為何在8月初，美國《華爾街日報》會在社論上，直接挑明「台灣自甘落後」（Taiwan Leaves Itself