On March 18, a group of Taiwanese students organized a protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China. The CSSTA, dubbed a “black box” agreement by the opposition, will allow Chinese companies to have greater influence on the Taiwanese economy. Students and small business owners fear this will threaten job security and make the island dependent on Chinese investments.
Though student protesters’ main objection is the CSSTA, their protests address a much larger issue: The Sunflower Movement, the name of the campaign, calls for open communication between the government and the Taiwanese people. These peaceful protests are an essential element to democracy; they draw attention to injustices and help ensure government officials address citizens’ needs.
In addition to fostering economic bonds, dissidents fear that increasing China’s presence in Taiwan will threaten their civil rights and undermine their hard-won independence.
“For now, [we] can express [ourselves] freely, but many fear for their right to free speech without censorship should Beijing exert dominance on them,” Benedict Young wrote on the activist blog Stories Worth Seeing.
Young highlights the strong connection between economics and politics. If China gains an economic stronghold in Taiwan, it could enforce its censorship policies in the country. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that Chinese media outlets are routinely monitored and modified. On a more global scale, Google and China had a public confrontation on Internet censorship.
Freedom of speech and freedom of press are essential to democracy — without these basic rights, citizens cannot voice their opinions and participate in their government. Currently, protesters are drawing on international connections and utilizing social media to spread their message. When governments limit citizens’ freedom of expression, they cut off essential channels of communication and move toward the dark path of totalitarianism.
Peaceful protest is a key aspect of democracy. It calls attention to injustices and encourages civic participation. Similar to the United States’ Occupy Wall Street movement, the Sunflower Movement demonstrates that young people have a greater awareness of economic injustices.
Both movements hint at the growing concern over economic issues. For example, the Daily Australian found that millennials are more concerned with the economy than with environmental issues. This fiscal focus makes sense; if a country is not economically stable, it cannot address other issues, such as the preservation and conservation of land. The International Monetary Fund newsletter found that global economic uncertainty puts young people at risk, and that the global economic crisis “threatens to spawn a ‘lost generation’ that may find it hard to recover,” implying that economic issues have a far-reaching impact on young people.
Though Taiwanese students encounter governmental opposition and struggle to gain media attention on the island, they are still able to influence the government by drawing international scrutiny. Citizen-based crowd-funding enables Taiwanese protesters to purchase local media attention and reach out through international campaigns. For example, Fight for Democracy, a group of Taiwanese students in the United Kingdom, uses Facebook and online media to organize international rallies in support of the Sunflower Movement. One such rally will take place in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 30 at the Wilshire Federal Building. International protests show support and put pressure on government officials to address citizens’ concerns.
In order for democracy to function as it should, the government must be responsive to their constituents. When policy fails to address the needs of citizens, peaceful rallies and protests draw attention to injustices and put pressure on government officials. With the help of the media, grassroots tactics bring these issues to light. Making concerns known is the first step to combating injustice. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
Veronica An is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies.