Students Pai-Chen Hsueh and Sheng-yu Tsai came to The University in hopes of furthering their education and taking what they have learned back to their home country of Taiwan.
The exchange students now have much more on their minds besides education since their native country has become wrapped in conflict.
Students have occupied Taiwan’s Parliament building since March 18 in protest of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Pact (CSSTP) with the Republic of China.
According to the website Democracy at 4 a.m., which is run by citizens protesting the CSSTP, The Sunflower Movement is challenging China’s Kuomintang (KMT). The movement said that KMT failed to properly review the pact’s clauses. This led to outrage among the student protesters, who have since taken to the streets and refused to accept KMT’s decision.
The protest is being led by two graduate students, Chen Wei-ting and Lin Fei-fan, with support from Taiwan’s student-based Black Island Nation Youth Frontier. Tsai said the protest is much more than just Taiwan passing CSSTP without due process.
“We are afraid that China will use this economic power to influence our society, our news channel or our business,” Tsai said. “I’m not saying this pact is bad, but we should examine it very thoroughly.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the accord would open many of Taiwan’s service industries, including banking, printing and even hair dressing, to Chinese investment while providing Taiwanese businesses with similar opportunities in China.
Taiwanese police tried evicting the protesters multiple times but were not successful because the entrances to the congress chamber were blocked. The students occupying the legislation have created common rules such as non-violent demonstrations, no vandalizing, recycling and maintaining peace and reason.
The students gave China’s President Ma Ying-jeou four appeals for settling the CSSTP issue: a citizen constitutional congress;establishment of a formal monitoring mechanism for future agreements with China; delaying CSSTP process until monitoring mechanism is formalized; and promises from all legislators to act without restrictions from their political parties.
Students became frustrated with the lack of response from the government on March 23 and raided the Executive Yuan, which is where the main political offices are located. More than 1,000 students occupied the building using non-violent demonstrations. Police violently removed students using water cannons, batons and shields to push back the crowds.
Tsai said the police violence affected him the most and felt personally attacked.
“After that happened, I personally do not trust the government anymore. It’s out of proportion,” Tsai said.
Ying-jeou said Saturday that he would consider the students appeals, but would not withdraw the CSSTP. Volunteers have provided students with water, food and shelter while the protests continue.
Hseuh said that the protest is important internationally because the students need assistance and support to reach an agreement.
“Once we pass the law we might become part of China one day, and this will affect the situation across the world dramatically,” Hseuh said.
The protests are not only taking place in Taiwan but are springing up around the world. Tsau and Hseuh traveled to New York City Sunday to take part in a Taiwanese student-run protest. Tsai said similar demonstrations have taken place in over 15 cities globally including Russia, France and Germany.
According to Reuters, Ying-jeou and his ruling Kuomintang Party have promoted the pact, which faces a final review in parliament on April 8, as necessary to maintain Taiwan’s competitiveness and status as an export powerhouse.
According to police estimates, more than 120,000 protesters gathered outside President Ying-jeou’s office Sunday to voice their disagreement with the pact.
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