Taipei, Oct. 21－Thousands of Taiwan independence campaigners took to the streets on Saturday (Oct 20) for a major rally to express their disapproval with Beijing, the first major protest calling for a popular vote since Taiwan became a democracy more than 20 years ago.
China cut off contact with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) government shortly after her inauguration in 2016 and has been ratcheting up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan, also successfully pressured global firms to list Taiwan as part of China on their company websites.
Organized by the Formosa Alliance (喜樂島聯盟), the protesters urged the government to hold a referendum in favor of using the name Taiwan instead of Republic of China, which they said has led to a very common misunderstanding around the world that Taiwan is a part of China. They claimed a turnout of 80,000. A police estimate was not immediately available.
Crowds gathered outside the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei, chanting slogans such as “Want referendum!” and “Oppose annexation!”
“We want to tell China to stop bullying Taiwan,” Alliance leader Kuo Pei-horng (郭倍宏), 63, told the crowd.
“The Taiwanese public must step out to have their voices heard and decide for themselves, otherwise China will decide for us,” said alliance spokesman Yang Tsung-li (楊宗澧).
“China’s aggression can only push us to defend ourselves,” a protester said. “We will safeguard our right to self-determination.”
“I want to loudly say no to China,” said 43-year-old demonstrator Ping Cheng-wen, who is self-employed. “I just don’t agree with China’s rhetoric. We have our own sovereignty, and Taiwan is a country.”
Protesters also challenged President Tsai Ing-wen’s stance on a potential independence referendum. Under increased pressure from Beijing, Tsai has sought to strike a balance between appeasing pro-independence groups and Taiwan’s powerful neighbour.
During a National Day address on 10 October, Tsai called on China not to be a “source of conflict” and pledged to boost Taiwan’s defences against Beijing’s military threats. Tsai said the best way to defend Taiwan was to “make it indispensable and irreplaceable to the world,” while remaining non-confrontational in its attitude towards China.
A vote on independence would require an amendment to current laws, which bar referendums on changing the constitution or sovereign territory. Formosa Alliance is urging the DPP government, which has a majority in parliament, to change the laws to allow such a vote.
The DPP publicly prohibited its officials and candidates from attending Saturday’s rally, instead holding its own rally against China’s “annexation” of Taiwan in the southern city of Kaohsiung.
The move was seen as a way for the party to distance itself from activists but to reflect the feelings of some of its more pro-independence members and supporters.