My Take

Tide turns for Taiwan’s Sunflower students

Protest leaders who once led the movement against closer economic ties with the mainland are themselves now working there; there’s a lesson there for Hong Kong’s own hotheads who took part in Occupy Central

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 12:56am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 12:56am

If Chang Yu-hua is right, several leaders of the so-called Sunflower student movement in Taiwan have now graduated from university and found work on the mainland.

One of the island’s most influential pundits, Chang said on a TV programme that the former student leaders should apologise for their past actions.

His report has been widely circulated on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and solicited a sarcastic opinion piece from the state-run Global Times, saying even the spoiled children of Taiwan have had to hide their identities to find jobs on the mainland.

Actually, I think those young people are being perfectly sensible. You can’t live on ideology alone. Unlike many young diehard ideologues in Taiwan and Hong Kong, once they realised their errors, they changed course. That should be encouraged, not criticised.

Chang claims at least four former student leaders are working on the mainland. One works for a computer game developer in Shenzhen, earning the equivalent of HK$12,390 a month. Chang is sometimes referred to as “the king of scoops” who was among the first journalists to expose the corrupt practices of jailed president Chen Shui-bian.

The Sunflower and the Umbrella: Hong Kong activists travel to Taiwan, call for closer ties, new policies from incoming government

So what’s the big deal? Plenty of Taiwanese live and work on the mainland. The Sunflower protesters, who once occupied Taiwan’s Legislative and Executive Yuan, were opposed to closer economic ties with the mainland. More specifically, they successfully fought in 2014 against the ratification of a key trade pact negotiated between the then ruling Kuomintang and Beijing.

Led primarily by university students, it’s the Taiwanese equivalent of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement. Indeed, former leaders of both movements have established ongoing close ties, with controversial visits made by such localist figures as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and disqualified lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung.

Independent economists have argued the trade pact was not unfavourable to Taiwan – quite the opposite. Many provisions had remained to be worked out if the Taiwanese had concerns. The public opposition was mostly ideological, which helped the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party win in the subsequent legislative and presidential elections. It has exaggerated the political threats, and downplayed the economic benefits, from closer ties to the mainland.

If Chang’s report is correct, now that the former student protesters have to make a living, suddenly they see the light and become more realistic. If only more of our own student leaders were so sensible!