Protests in Taiwan have hit the two-week mark, and some Taiwanese students at UF are standing in solidarity with protesters overseas.
The public outcry, dubbed the Sunflower Movement by Taiwanese media, began March 18 when students demanded a review of a trade agreement with China, the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which they suspected was expedited through legislature by the majority party, The Diplomat Magazine reported.
The protesters fear the repercussions the trade agreement could have on Taiwan’s economy and are looking to pass a bill that would monitor trade negotiations, said Li-Li Chen, a 32-year-old fourth-year UF political science Ph.D student from Taipei, Taiwan.
“About 200 students occupied the Legislative Yuan (national legislative building) to show their disagreement with the government, (which is) basically violently bypassing the law,” Chen said. “The government dispatched the police force and tried to force them out. It’s against the law of human rights.”
On March 20, UF students who support the Sunflower Movement released a three-point statement demanding respect for the democratic process in legislature, a government renegotiation with China and support for the protesters in Taiwan.
“This is a very complicated issue because it involves the economy and politics,” said Ping Huang, a 30-year-old UF fourth-year biology Ph.D student from Taichung, Taiwan. “A lot of critics try to group (the protesters) as ‘You are anti-China. You are anti-economic development.’ But I don’t think that’s the point of value they are trying to promote.”
The movement has since multiplied, moving to the presidential building — called the Executive Yuan — and flooding Ketagalan Boulevard, the 10-lane road in front of it, with a sea of sunflowers, the symbol of the movement.
“It’s small, but it has its democratic spirit for human rights and democracy,” Chen said. “That’s why we’re proud of Taiwan.”
As in Syria and Venezuela, Huang credits social media to the spread of the protests. Students were the first to form a group outside the Legislative Yuan due to the ease of communication online.
Other groups, including adults, began to gather as traditional media picked up the protests, she said.
Huang said the movement is important for UF students who share similar beliefs about civil rights.
“When the government cannot represent their people, then like the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, you should stand up for that,” Huang said. “I know for general UF students, they might not even be able to identify where Taiwan is, but if they share these kind of beliefs, then learning what is going on is important for them and important for us.”
[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 4/1/2014 under the headline "Gators support Taiwanese students in Sunflower Movement"]