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June 22, 2017

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Government, protesters must find opportunities to open a dialogue

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Democracy is about communication. Everyone has the right to express his opinion and even the smallest voice should be heard. Communication, however, is not merely about speaking out. It is also about listening to others, or else a democracy will only be a divisive shouting match.

When protesters stormed the Executive Yuan on Sunday, and when anti-riot police removed them amid violate clashes early yesterday, the Occupy Legislative Yuan movement became no longer merely a debate over the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement.

Perhaps it never was.

Government officials from President Ma Ying-jeou down failed to understand the anguish of the Occupy protesters who are mostly students and young adults. The officials saw the confrontation from a technicality angle, arguing the legality of the service pact and the illegality of the occupation. They failed to see that the service pact is just the trigger of an angry young generation that feels disenfranchised and sees the prosperous lifestyle of their parents slipping away from them.

The snap passage of the service pact at the Legislature's interior affairs committee, while procedurally sound, came as another slap in the face of a public that watched helplessly when Miaoli County forcefully expropriated lands in Dapu village against the will of some local residents (the appropriation of Dapu lands were later ruled partially illegal), when a young serviceman died during a solitary confinement session, when the president waged an open war against the Legislature Speaker and, most importantly, when the salaries of Taiwanese workers stagnated for over a decade. Some of these problems are the central government's fault, some are not. But the Ma administration has certainly not helped in communicating to the public, especially the young people.

The government should start to evaluate the current student movement as something more than a debate over the technicality of the service pact and the government's procedural correctness. The clashes early yesterday have made the matter emotional not only for the protesters but the general public. Instead of merely reiterating the soundness of the service pact and emphasizing the state's prerogative to police the people, the president should address the people's true fear for their future. The government should see riot police as the absolute last resort. It should keep on attempting to communicate with the protesters in ways such as Premier Jiang Yi-huah's visit to the occupied Legislative Yuan on last Saturday. Multiple attempts are perhaps needed to exhibit sincerity and government officials would probably not be warmly welcomed by the protesters. But patience and tolerance should be the principle for government officials invested with the power of the state.

The protesters, however, should also do their part to facilitate communication. They should recognize at least the extraordinary nature of their siege of the Legislative Yuan and their storming of the Executive Yuan. They should realize that if they are not prepared to negotiate and will only accept full and unconditional concessions from the government, then they will be exhibiting the same uncommunicative attitude as the government they are protesting against.

Both the government and the protesters should hold dialogue nonviolently with the aim of truly establishing communication. All stakeholders in this incident, both from the government and the civil movement, should realize that their decision will have profound consequences for this nation. They should not regard the victory of their own camp as the ultimate goal.

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