Taiwanese protesters use Reddit to promote awareness of controversial China trade pact

Protesters used the forum to introduce international audiences to the 'Sunflower Movement'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 8:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 9:57pm

Popular internet forum Reddit became a political tool this week as leaders of Taiwan's "Sunflower Movement" used the message board's Ask Me Anything section to familiarise international audiences with their cause. 

On the evening of April 2, Chen Wei-ting, Oliver Cheng, Lin Yu-hsuan, and Sean Su hosted a thread on Reddit urging all forum users to ask them questions about the protests and demonstrations in Taiwan. All four students are organisers in the current occupation of the island’s Legislative Yuan.

"We are the student organisers that have taken over Taiwan’s Legislature for the past two weeks," the students wrote in their introduction, using the account name TWSunflowerRev. "We are upset that the government attempted to ram a huge services trade agreement with China through a legislative session without due process, in an authoritarian and undemocratic manner."

"The cost of this trade pact, simply put, will be our freedom and the future of [Taiwan]," Oliver Cheng wrote in the messaging thread. "It sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn't. On the economic front, our economy is already 38% reliant on China, with China only 2.5% for us. This is unbalanced. And you can probably imagine the impact of this on our democracy [and] freedom of speech... This trade pact will increase this unequal dependency further in the future, maybe not in 1 or 2 years, but definitely in 10 [to] 20. And we fear that this will be a course we cannot reverse."

"You guys are so brave," one Redditt commentator wrote in response. "I'm a student and I couldn't even imagine overtaking a Taco Bell."

"Ask most of us here a couple of months ago, and we would have probably said the same," Cheng replied. "But one day you realise that if you aren't willing to stand up for your country now, there might never be another chance. That's a pretty sobering thought."

The thread started by the student leaders quickly became one of the more viewed threads on the Ask Me Anything sub-forum, with hundreds of comments and more than 2,300 "upvotes", which measure the popularity of posts on Reddit.

The Sunflower Movement began after protesters, many of them students, occupied the offices of the Taipei Legislative Yuan on March 19 in protest to the quickened passing of an agreement designed to loosen trade restrictions between Taiwan and the mainland. 

After two weeks of extended protests, Legislative Yuan proceedings resumed on March 31, but activists continue to remain on the building's premises and have even livestreamed their occupation for the world to witness.

Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou and his incumbent KMT party remain adament that the trade agreement cannot be redacted and is necessary to bolster Taiwan's economy. The island's liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) claims that the pact will adversely affect freedom of speech and employment opportunities for local Taiwanese.