Press Freedom or Tourist-free Trains?

In Taiwan since March 18th, 2014, student protesters have been occupying the main hall in the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.   They are protesting against the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which is a part of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).   The CCSTA is a reciprocal trade agreement between China and Taiwan, which opens various Taiwanese sectors of the service industry to China.   This is an extremely controversial pact as it is seen as a threat to Taiwan’s political and economic autonomy.   President Ma, along with the Kuomintang (KMT) are seen as evil doers selling Taiwan to China.   The student protesters who are backed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), are demanding the KMT to not implement the agreement until it was considered in the legislature and reviewed clause-by-clause in public hearings, with consultations with academics, NGOs, and the representatives of the sectors that stood to be affected by the pact. Hong Kongers have been showing their support for Taiwan in various forms:

support

It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that Hong Kongers are supporting the Taiwanese people, but there is an element of ridiculousness and triviality to their complaints.  For instance, a Hong Kong based blogger, badcanto, who writes for Dictionary of Politically Incorrect Hong Kong Cantonese, posted an item about Hong Kong tourists in Taiwan.  Hong Kongers are encouraging Taiwanese people to be strong, and not to become a ‘Second Hong Kong”, which I totally agree with, but I do find this statement amusing: ” In Hong Kong, I’ve to wait for four trains before getting on one.  However, in Taiwan, even during rush hour, I can still breathe.  I feel very grateful.”  Basically, what this tourist is implying is that if the Taiwanese don’t hold their ground and fight this trading pact, the country is going to be overrun by Mainland Chinese, which seems like the only thing this individual was concerned about.  He didn’t mention any other consequences other than crowded public transportation… like, what about the the loss of freedom of speech and free press?    In Hong Kong, three journalists have been attacked in the recent weeks.  On February 26, a notable journalist Kevin Lau, former editor-in-chief for Ming Pao, was stabbed as he was getting out of his car.   On March 20th, two more journalists were attacked in Tsim Sha Tsui.  These attacks have been regarded as a threat to free press in Hong Kong, which I believe should be a far more concerning issue for the Taiwanese people to think about than the prospect of too many tourists from a particular country. While it seems that the majority of the people in Hong Kong may support the student protesters in Taiwan, the view of mainstream media is a little vague (perhaps a sign of shrinking press freedom and its subsequent self-censorship).  The South China Morning Post has an article today titled, “‘This isn’t the democracy we want’: Some Chinese dismayed by Taiwan students’ occupation of legislature”.   While the author agrees that most Hong Kongers support the Taiwanese people, she had chosen some provoking images to represent the student protesters.  In one picture, the students are seen drinking beer, and in another, two gay men kissing. Instead of openly being critical of the movement, the author had chosen a passive-aggressive tactic to discredit the whole event.    Why don’t you just tell us what you really think, SCMP?

What is troubling is how Hong Kongers aid the media in trivializing the student protests in Taiwan, whether they intend to or not.  While Hong Kongers are supportive of the Taiwanese, and urging them not to end up losing control over their country as they had, the Hong Kongers show their support by focusing on petty issues, such as having the public transport system overrun by Mainland Chinese tourists.   Hong Kongers are not articulating their issue and their demands to each other and in the media.  There have been emotionally charged protests taking place that are targeting Mainland Chinese tourists and shouting at them in public places to go back to China.   These anti-Mainland sentiments are ineffective in enabling Hong Kong to be more autonomous, and they end up making Hong Kongers look ethnocentric, which hardly generates as much international sympathy as would protests about press freedom.  The rhetoric of bigotry is harmful because the purpose and the demands of the political activity can be easily discredited.   I hope Taiwanese people take a cue from what’s been happening in Hong Kong and employ a different tactic.  They should articulate their demands as they have been doing, hold their ground, and do not let emotions and bigotry get in the way of the issue at hand, because if they do the press controlled and influenced by Beijing will be ready to pounce.  Go Taiwan!

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