The following is a transcript of our conversation with Sunflower Movement student activists Wei Yang and Wu Cheng during their trip to Europe with Taiwan Corner. Wei Yang is a member of the Black Island Youth Front, and Wu Cheng has worked with group Democracy Tautin. For coverage of the trip, click here.

Many thanks to Nikki Lin for speaking with Wei and Wu and recording the conversation.

Ketagalan Media (KM): Wei Yang and Wu Cheng, how was your European trip different from your experiences visiting the United States?

Wu Cheng (Wu): When we went to the US, we met with members of Congress, senators, and people from Taiwanese American organizations. Taiwan is influenced by US policy in many ways, so people think in terms of how can the US help Taiwan and fight China through governmental relations and foreign policy. Taiwanese Americans would ask what they can do to help. In Europe, we joked about how Europe doesn’t factor into Taiwan’s policymaking, and so we haven’t thought of how Europe can help us. We do want Europeans to understand the reasons behind the student movements, what kind of pressures we are facing, and how we are dealing with them.

Wei Yang (Wei): I think the kinds of people we meet are quite different. In the US, the Taiwanese Americans are usually older, people who have long been in the Taiwan movement. They would tell us, “hey great job, you are our hope of the future! How are you going to take down the KMT? I suggest you do this and that…” They are all our “seniors” in the business for decades, so it’s a lot of pressure on us—they are our elders, so we have to do what they say, kind of thing. In Europe we met more peers, so there’s more of a feeling of working together to solve our problems.

Meeting with officials in both the US and Europe, we pretty much know what they’ll say. “We support Taiwan’s democracy, but we won’t interfere in your China issue.” They know that China is infiltrating Taiwan, but they cannot give you a straight answer on what they will do about it. It’s hard talking to officials. In any case, I feel that the US has a stronger, more organized Taiwanese community, and not so much in the UK.

KM: How do you think Taiwan and Europe can work together?

Wu: I think there are many human rights issues where Europe is much more progressive than Taiwan. Their human rights education and prison systems are much better than ours. They see abolishing the death penalty as something very natural, but we are still fighting that battle in Taiwan.

KM: Taiwan’s legislature is discussing the Free-Trade Economic Zones (FEZs) and the Cross Straits Oversight Law this week. What are your thoughts? How will you make your opinions heard this time?

Wu: The FEZs are basically designed to relax regulations across the board. In essence, its logic is to lower costs for companies, so they would want to invest, which then creates economic growth. In the past 10, 20 years we have tried to grow our economy this way. We have passed laws, lowered corporate taxes, given them incentives, cut tariffs, etc. But I think this cost-down philosophy has come to an end, a bottleneck. We need to rethink whether this development model is right for Taiwan.

I believe we shouldn’t rely anymore on lowering costs and encouraging exports; rather we should think about how to develop home-grown industries and demand. The cost-down model has capped wages and labor conditions in Taiwan; after all, it’s a race to the bottom where you are always trying to cut yourself more than your competitors. It’s too exposed to the risk of currency exchange rates, or financial crises. Therefore the whole thinking behind FEZs need to be reevaluated.

As for the parliament discussing these bills, I think they definitely need to be discussed. But the KMT’s attitude is not really to let the people truly deliberate on it, but it only wants to pass them as quickly as possible for its own political gains.

I am personally very much against the FEZs. To “liberalize” and deregulate on the environment, labor, capital and everything else, is to open a backdoor for lower quality industry to enter Taiwan. All the things we opposed in the Cross Straits Services Trade Agreement or Goods Trade Agreement can be done through the FEZs, creating a twisted “one country two systems” situation. For example, low quality Chinese goods can enter Taiwan’s market; after processing within the FEZs, they can then be sold as Taiwanese goods.

The FEZ is a very complex issue regarding trans-border capital and labor flows. Furthermore, it contradicts with the government’s own push for free trade agreements (FTAs). If we lower our own tariffs in special zones, then other countries will have no need to sign FTAs with us, where they have to lower their tariffs in exchange for us to lower ours. They can just invest in our FEZs. It’s not a simple infrastructure project. I don’t think we should push for something like this that will fundamentally affect Taiwan’s economy.

As for the Cross Straits Oversight Agreement, right now the KMT’s version is a “no oversight” law, because it simply codifies the current problematic practices that the government uses when dealing with China. It’s pointless, like how we have a referendum law but can’t have referendums. Of course we want to pass an oversight law, but not the administration’s current version.

So the legislative process, I hope, will take more time, and be more robust. For example, some in industry have said the version of the oversight law that NGOs have proposed would make it too hard to actually pass any agreement with China. We can and should talk about these concerns, and that’s more the reason to expect our legislators to closely deliberate on this issue.

How do we make our opinions heard? Traditionally, of course street demonstrations grab a lot of attention, but I think there are other ways as well. For example, we need to be more active in committee hearings during the legislative process and work with political parties to get a handle on those discussions.

Wei: Exactly; these two issues need to be discussed much more broadly within the civil society, and between the government and the people. Even academics are split on the effects of the FEZs, so it’s definitely a controversial issue.

As I know, the first committee hearing on the FEZ was held during the protests, just half a year ago. We didn’t have much time to really understand it. Moreover, the current draft oversight bill does not change any of the status quo. When these things are passed, they become the law of the land, and then it would be much harder to change things, to oversee the government’s dealings with China. So we need more time to think about them.

I am personally against them as well. On the FEZ, the content of the bill seems to be supportive of “high level service” sectors. But the zones are all outdated costal industrial parks; who is really going to go there to provide high level services? How will most of the population benefit? Or is this really just a ploy to bump real estate prices? Before we can answer these questions, FEZs should not exist.

KM: Since the Sunflower Movement, survey has shown that support for the student movement has declined. Why is that, and how will you win back their support?

Wu: I don’t think the support has declined, but the attention has declined. It’s a sad truth, but I guess you can’t follow the movement 365 days a year. So after the climax, it’s natural that people are paying attention to other things. I think there is a natural cycle to social movements, highs and lows. The Sunflower Movement itself wasn’t born from a vacuum; it was brewing for a long time in Taiwan, out of wave after wave of smaller movements and civic participation.

After the explosion during the occupation, we are back to the period of accumulating energy for the next cycle. We will of course continue to push for our issues in civil society. Right now, the Cross Straits Services Trade Agreement seems to be put on hold, but behind it are the fundamental issues of the China factor, and globalization. Because of the movement, more people now care about these issues.

We see more seminars and forums begin to talk about these issues. I believe more people in Taiwan are now aware of how the China factor is affecting us, and Taiwan’s wealth gap problem. I believe when the China factor, or distributive justice, becomes too much to bear, we will still have mass social movements.

Wei: I don’t think we can prove that the society has less support for the Sunflower Movement. I agree it’s more of a cyclical thing. We have had a lot of attention grabbing, iconic events—occupying the legislature, press conferences etc, but eventually we needed to go to a more reflective period. We need that to regroup, to flesh out our manifestos, to propose actual draft legislation. It’s not the kind of thing you see in the news every day.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it would be bad if we, the civic groups, stopped working on the issues after the attention is gone. If we are quietly working on the issues in each of our corners, that’s not a bad thing. For example, a lot of new people joined our NGOs, so we want to train them to become leaders for now, so when the next wave comes, we can do more. If we can do that, there’s no need to worry about support, because we are pushing things forward one way or another.

KM: Any other long term personal plans? Like running for office, work for NGOs, or other plans?

Wu: I think I will continue to study, and I want to go to business school. I think many of the social activists in Taiwan have legal or political backgrounds, but not so much in economics or business. It’s important for social movements to have diversity of expertise and perspectives; if not, we could become too narrow-minded. Just as I want more diversity in Taiwan’s democracy, I want more diversity within social movements, so I want to learn more about business.

Wei: For my group The Black Island Youth, we want to become an advocacy group. We won’t plan on being at every street demonstration, but we want to become a group that can provide a theoretical basis for activists, such as on China policy, or Taiwan independence, or economic policies. We want to be able to provide a specific voice that talks about all these issues together coherently. Taiwan’s problem is really finding our place within the world order. We want to be able to influence policy. So I will probably stay in academia, or in NGO work.

 以下是太陽花學運成員魏揚和吳崢在 Taiwan Corner 籌辦的歐洲行程中,與我們的一段對話。魏揚是黑色島國青年陣線成員,吳崢為民主鬥陣成員。歐洲行報導請看這裡

感謝 Nikki Lin 在倫敦的幫助。

Ketagalan Media (以下「KM」): 魏揚與吳崢,你們在先前也有去過美國討論太陽花學運的事。美國跟這次歐洲,有什麼樣的不同嗎?

吳崢(以下「吳」): 在華府也是有跟 senator 和 members of congress 碰面,其它行程主要是在台灣同鄉會。 台灣跟美國有比較直接的連帶關係,台灣受到美國很大的影響,也會直接看說要怎麼處理台美關係,美國應該要怎麼幫助台灣,台灣應該要有怎樣的外交政策,跟美國合作來對抗中國的壓力等等。然後當然也會問海外的同鄉會或留學生可以做些什麼。不過這個問題在歐洲也有被問到,我們常會開玩笑說台灣的國際關係裡面只有中國和美國,相對來講,歐洲含台灣的連帶關係沒有這麼強,所以大家比較不會問說台灣跟歐洲之間合作的關係,比較會著重在運動的一些理解,包括台灣現況的處境還有未來的一些策略。

魏:我覺得歐洲跟美國很大的不同是我們遇到的群眾組成很不一樣,因為在美國主要會遇到的是當地的台美人,然後主要都有年紀了,很少會有學生。然後通常那些長輩的態度都是說:「你們很辛苦,台灣的未來就靠你們啦!你們要怎麼打倒國民黨?我建議你們要去監票還是去清算國民黨的黨產」之類的。就是遇到都是已經從事民主運動幾十年的前輩,那其實會有很大的壓力,因為感覺那不是一個對等的關係。感覺就是說前輩提到要去做的某些事情,因為我們是後輩,所以我們就是要去努力把它完成。但是在歐洲遇到的都是年輕人,我們會一起討論說我們覺得這一代的問題是什麼,然後可以一起討論說那留學生可以在外國做什麼,那就會有一種 working together 的感覺。


KM: 台灣與歐洲之間如何合作?


KM: 這星期台灣立法院開始討論太陽花學運訴求的兩岸監督條例,還有自由經濟示範區(自經區)。你們的看法如何?這次如何推動你們的立場?

吳:自經區基本上是協助鬆綁每各個面向。它的精神是說,去降低在各面向的成本,讓我們去吸引資金進入台灣來帶動投資和促進經濟成長。台灣過去十年,二十年來都是以這樣的產業發展思維來推動產業政策。這其中包括了產業發展促進條例,我們也有所謂的減稅的政策,租稅補貼,以及降低關稅等政策。但是我覺得這套所謂以 cost-down 為主的產業發展政策已經很明顯的走到了一個極限,也算遇到了一個瓶頸。而自經區只是把這個路線走到更極致而已。我們現在應該思考我們 cost-down 是不是已經到了極限,是不是應該改變我們的走向和路線。

我們不該繼續朝著降低成本刺激,出口刺激路線的外貿,而是思考如何發展台灣本地的產業,如何帶動台灣本地的成長和需求,探討產業升級轉型的可能。因為降低成本的思維在很大程度上限制了台灣本地工資的提升以及台灣勞工環境的改善,而且成本降低終究會遇到無法再往下降的時候。這樣的做法也是相對不穩定,因為我們是在跟別人拼那個 marginal 的成長,看有沒有辦法比別人多砍一點點。這樣很容易受到國際匯率的波動或者是經濟震盪直接的影響,所以我覺得自經區背後的整個思維需要去做非常根本的改變。






所以這個立法過程其實需要比較多的時間,可能例如說半年,或是甚至更久。我們希望它不是一個倉促的立法,而且在過程中能夠引進足夠的公民社會討論,包括 NGO 和民間的意見。因為之前服貿一再讓人詬病的就是政府的黑箱決策。那既然我們現在要設計它的機制,可以讓往後的兩岸協議的簽署變得透明,可以被監督的話,那這個協議本身一定也是要公開透明,它才有可能去透過這個平台來辦到這件事情。







KM: 四月學運結束以來,似乎支持學運的民調有下降的現象。你們覺得這是為什麼?如何奪回這些人的支持?

吳:我覺得太陽花的支持度沒有下降,下降的是關注度。這也是一件很殘忍的事情。因為不可能大家 365 天每天都在 follow 太陽花,所以在這個事件的高峰過了以後,這個關注自然下降是可以理解的事。而且我覺得社會運動本來就有他的一個週期跟高峰和低峰。就像之前我們一直講太陽花運動不是憑空出現的,它是過去台灣社會經過很長一段時間,透過一波一波的社會運動, 一直的討論公共事務。 所以累積到太陽花我們看到一個比較劇烈的高峰出現。

那現在很自然又進入的一個累積的狀況,社會在儲蓄能量,為下一波的運動做準備。我們在繼續在社會上做公共事務討論的累積。我們都希望一個運動可以長期的持續推展下去,那以現在來看的確服貿協議是暫時被暫緩擱置住的。但是它本身牽扯到很多台灣中國之間來往的複雜因素,包括台灣在全球化浪潮下的衝擊,還有 China Factor。我認為說現在進入了累積的時刻,但是這些問題的討論並沒有在學運結束而消失,反而是因為運動,這些議題和問題被更多人看見。




KM: 那你們個人有什麼長遠的計畫呢?例如參選,繼續做 NGO,或是還有什麼其他的想法?


魏:改變台灣長遠的計劃,是否要不要競選或是在 NGO 工作,就以我們黑島青年,我們期許自己是倡議型的 NGO。也就是說,我們不會期許自己是每個衝場都會到的團體。我們是希望自己可以發展出比較務實的論述,例如說在中國政策或是台灣獨立的問題上面,或是說在台灣的經貿產業政策上面, 這些東西過去是很零碎地被討論,我們能夠去談出一些東西。現在我們面對的是一個越來越全球化中國的影響力,無論是以政治或經濟的形勢出現,那麼台灣面臨到了一個區域政治的問題,或是在世界體系當中我們要如何定位的問題。我們期許自己能夠就政策的修改方向討論出非常具體的改變。我個人會認為說我適合在學界或是 NGO 工作,那一樣是發展論述,這大概是我未來會從事的道路。


(Feature photo of Michael Danielsen, Wei Yang, Nikki Lin and Wu Cheng, from left. Provided by Nikki Lin)


The Ketagalan Project

History and culture are the frames that prescribe how we understand the world around us. Our co-hosts present in-depth interviews on how art, culture, history and politics intertwine throughout time and space to connect us. Find out about the cosmopolitan modern Taipei downtown in the 1920s, regional trade, the future of aboriginal culture and more.