TAIPEI: Each year, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou releases a statement on the June 4th anniversary of Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.
For many, the comments have recently grown softer on China.
Wang Dan, an exiled prominent leader of the Tiananmen protests, said that Ma has been too easy on human rights and democratization issues in China since taking the leadership in 2008.
Taking a stand on China’s human rights record “doesn’t depend on what you say, it really depends on concrete actions you take,” he said.
He predicted Ma’s statement on the 25th anniversary would be mostly formulaic.
But general interest in Taiwan was little better, Wang said.
“Many young Taiwanese people know little about the June 4th incident, even if they are interested in politics,” he added.
On the night of June 3-4, 1989, Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on student demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The death toll is not certain and the ruling Communist Party has rejected calls for an open investigation into the armed forces’ use of tanks and live ammunition against protesters.
The informal Tiananmen Mothers group has confirmed the deaths of some 200 people in the crackdown, but said it believes the total number of casualties is much higher.
In Taiwan, regarded as a renegade province by Beijing since it split from the mainland in 1949, the incident has had less public impact than even in many Western countries.
Wang and others said this is from decades of separation, which has given recent ge–nerations on either side of the Taiwan Strait very different politically formative experiences.
“It happened in a different country. That’s how people really feel,” Wu Jieh-min, a sociologist at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, said.
Wu said even the ruling Kuo–mintang, which was firmly anti-Communist in 1989, has subdued its criticism over the Tiananmen incident to avoid offending the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
MA wants peace
Ma took office in 2008 with the aim of easing cross-Strait tensions, and has overseen 19 mostly trade agreements with Beijing.
The rapprochement has caused resentment among the public.
In March, students and citizens stormed parliament and occupied it for 24 days, while hundreds of thousands took to the streets in support and to protest against a services trade agreement with China.
The movement seems driven not by outrage over China’s human rights record but rather concerns that Taiwan would be swamped by businesses from the mainland, and over the ruling party’s irregular tactics to push for the ratification of a pact.
“Taiwanese people are afraid that Ma would be eventually selling Taiwan to China,” said Lin Fei-fan, a 26-year-old graduate student in political science and a leader of the March protests, known as the Sunflower Movement.
Wu said his research indicates the CCP has in recent years built close ties with Taiwan’s more China-friendly political and business figures.
“The essence of the cooperation between the CCP and the KMT is secrecy, not transparency,” Wu said, adding that in the past six years, even the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could not say a word on cross-Strait policies.
But he said the recent protests prompted Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office to say it was open to a wider range of voices in Taiwan.
“It signals a subtle change of thinking in Beijing. Taiwan’s civil society becomes a player of cross-Strait relations,” Wu said.
Wang, who was released by Beijing to the United States and has taught Chinese political history in Taiwan since 2009, encourages a closer look at China.
“With a better understanding, Taiwanese young people would be able to interact with China more appropriately in the future,” Wang said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said the protests did not speak for the majority.
“As a government agency, we will keep sending messages to reveal real faces of the society of Taiwan to Beijing,” council spokesman Wu Mei-hung said.
But the opposition still expresses concern over the pace of warming relations with the mainland.
“We need an adequate balance between the opening factor and the management of risk factor,” opposition lawmaker Bi-khim Hsiao said.