Direct action used in Taiwan protest too risky for Hong Kong, academic warns

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:51am

A political scientist and supporter of the occupation of parliament by protesters in Taiwan has warned pro-democracy activists against trying similar tactics in Hong Kong.

Lin Chi-hua, an academic at Soochow University who has studied political change in Hong Kong since the handover, said direct action could alienate public opinion and be counterproductive.

"The two places are at different stages of democratic development. Taiwan has gone through many waves of democratic movements and many people are determined to clash with the government," said Lin.

"Hong Kong is also going through social changes, but social changes can't be hurried. If a crowd storms into the Legco, would people consider it legitimate to do so?

"Is what is effective in Taiwan also effective in Hong Kong? There's a big question mark."

Lin is in contact with pan-democrat groups in Hong Kong and told them the key was avoiding the use of force.

Lin has backed the occupation of the parliament in Taipei, but did not support the students who forced their way into nearby government offices last weekend.

Police in riot gear evicted them from the complex using batons and water cannon.

The students are protesting against a trade agreement with the mainland that they believe will cost jobs in Taiwan. They also fear closer ties with Beijing pose a threat to the island's democracy.

"We don't use violence on police and our training is aimed at crowd control and the avoidance of violence," Lin said.

"When the crowd gets emotional and organisers fail to take control there is a danger of a violent outbreak. That's why we have to train the students and let them know how to react when the police disperse them."

Leung Man-to, a politics professor at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan who is originally from Hong Kong, said even if protesters wanted to occupy Legco in Hong Kong it would probably prove impossible.

"The Legco building in Tamar has a closed design unlike the Legislative Yuan building, which is very open," he said.

The academic has joined the student protests in Taipei.

He remains interested in Hong Kong public affairs and took part in a demonstration against the national education curriculum in 2012.

"Many Hong Kong students studying in Taiwan have joined the movement. Some studying in Hong Kong even flew here to support it," said Leung.

"I believe Hong Kong young people will grow more and more radical as a result of a series of policy failures."

Leung believes Beijing will tighten control over freedom of speech in Hong Kong and Taiwan through economic pressure.

That was why Taiwan should oppose the service trade pact with Beijing that has prompted the students to occupy the parliament in Taipei, said Leung.

Nicholas Hon Chun-yin, a masters student from Hong Kong who is studying at the National Taiwan University, has also been taking part in the Taipei rallies.

He said he supported the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong to call for greater democracy and universal suffrage.

But he said there should also be negotiation alongside any protests to further demonstrators' aims, he said. "It is no use just occupying a place and not engaging in dialogue," he said.