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Students show support for protesters occupying Taiwan’s legislature

By amanda schallert

March 22, 2014 12:26 p.m.

The original version of this article contained a quote that was unclear and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Fears about the the safety of her friends and former classmates demonstrating in Taiwan kept Ellen Hsieh from sleeping Thursday night.

Hundreds of people began occupying Taiwan’s legislature in Taipei Tuesday evening to protest a trade agreement with China that some argue would give Beijing too much control over Taiwanese economy and politics.

In the crowds of demonstrators at the legislature are many of her friends and former professors, said Hsieh, a graduate student in archaeology from Taiwan.

About 50 individuals, most of them international UCLA students from Taiwan, held signs with slogans such as “Democracy is not for trade” and “Taiwan: small country, big heart” near the Bruin Bear Friday evening. The students sang songs about democracy in Taiwan to show their solidarity and support for individuals currently occupying the Taiwanese legislative building.

“We (international students) have to go back and live there,” Hsieh said. “Think about if your country is not there anymore.”

Many of the protesters in Taiwan are college students who think the ruling Kuomintang party neglected to follow democratic processes by pushing through the trade agreement without letting legislators and the people fully review each of its stipulations. Students at the UCLA event took particular issue with the lack of a review process, and some said they think the government has acted illegally.

“We want the whole agreement to be examined line-by-line in a standard democratic process,” Hsieh said.

Allen Liang, a second-year chemistry student and a member of UCLA’s Taiwanese American Union, said many of his friends are protesting at the legislature and that he thinks China is trying to “buy Taiwan.”

“This shouldn’t be seen just as an economic agreement,” Hsieh said. “Economic and political agreements are always (tied) together.”

The Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement, which follows the 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, would lessen barriers on service trades – a move some people fear would hurt local businesses in Taiwan.

Some students at the UCLA event said they think the measure is a political move that would threaten democracy, free speech and Taiwan’s independence from China. Many think that China views Taiwan as a territory that must eventually be reunified.

“This entire event will affect our country,” said Derrick Chang, a graduate student in electrical engineering from Taiwan. “It will place our country in danger. It’s not exaggerated, it’s happening.”

Kai Chen, a UCLA alumnus from Taiwan, said he attended the event in the hopes that it would inform more people on campus about the trade agreement. Chen added that he is against China gaining influence in Taiwan.

“I want the Taiwanese people to make a choice and say we don’t want to be with China,” Chen said.

In a statement Friday, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou called for protesters to let the parliament resume working and did not set times to meet with demonstrators. Some students at UCLA Friday said they think the government should be more responsive to the demonstrators’ demands and review the agreement.

“The government of Taiwan should listen to its people instead of letting an outside force control its response,” said Randy Yang, a graduate student in biomedical engineering who attended the event.

At UCLA, the students took photos with signs in protest of the trade agreement. They plan to compile footage from the event into a video to publicize the issue and show further solidarity with demonstrators in Taiwan, said I-Wen Chang, a graduate student in world arts and cultures/dance who helped organize the event.

“Our main purpose is we want to show support for the students,” Chang said.

For now, Liang said he is hopeful that the demonstrators in Taiwan will be successful as they gain more support from international communities.

“If you think democracy is valuable, you should care about what’s happening in Taiwan,” Hsieh said.

Taiwan’s Parliament is set to review the proposal again on April 8.

Clarification: I-wen Chang said UCLA students protesting the trade agreement hope to show support for demonstrators in Taiwan.

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