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TematicheCina e Indo-PacificoWhat is the Bluebird Movement? Taiwan's political turbulence: the...

What is the Bluebird Movement? Taiwan’s political turbulence: the emergence of the Bluebird Movement

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Since Lai Ching-te took office as president, Taiwan has experienced difficulty. Recent reforms proposed and accepted by the Legislative Yuan, dominated by the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), contrast sharply with the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, sparking significant debate. President Lai faces his first major challenges post-Tsai Ing-wen government. The protests have grown in prominence, leading to the emergence of popular movements like the Bluebird Movement. But what is the Bluebird Movement, and what is happening in Taiwan?

The current situation in Taiwan

The reaction of civil society to the opposition parties’ “parliamentary reform” was swift. Between May 17th and 28th, Taiwan experienced what resembles a new “Sunflower” spring—the major popular protest of 2014. That movement saw students and broader civil society invade, occupy, and surround the Taiwanese parliament (Legislative Yuan, LY) to oppose the KMT’s hasty and plenary-session-free ratification of an agreement with China. The 2014 Sunflower Movement succeeded in cancelling the treaty’s ratification, blocking the agreement’s implementation, and compelling the KMT-dominated parliament to adopt a mechanism for reviewing all cross-straits agreements.

Emergence of the Bluebird Movement

The popular protest movement of May 2024, now referred to as the “Bluebird Movement” (青鳥行動, qingniao xingdong), has garnered significant attention. The name “Bluebird” is a translation of the Chinese word 青鳥 qingniao, similar to 青島 Qingdao, one of the three streets adjacent to the Taiwanese parliament. Initially, netizens replaced “Legislative Yuan” with “Qingdao East Road” in their online messages to avoid censorship by Facebook’s algorithms. Eventually, they adopted qingniao, the Bluebird, as the name of their movement. The Formosan blue magpie, an indigenous and endangered bird with a blue tail, became the emblem of the protest, symbolising Taiwan’s endangered democracy.

Protests and visual art

Unlike the 2014 Sunflower Movement, which occupied public space for a long period and developed a culture of engaged visual arts, the Bluebird Movement protests were organized daily without continuous occupation. However, protesters used visual symbols like bluebirds in their communication, distributing leaflets and tracts. On social media, a variety of drawings, posters, and slogans were circulated, demonstrating widespread concern among the population. Humorous and satirical content also played a significant role, reminiscent of the 2014 movement.

Legislative overreach and public response

The Bluebird Movement protests were in response to a set of bills to reform legislative power, hastily passed by the Legislative Yuan. The KMT, the main opposition party, dismissed the protests and criticized international observers for their lack of understanding of Taiwanese politics. The controversial reform grants the Legislative Yuan more oversight and investigative powers. Critics argue that the legislation is unconstitutional, infringes on civil liberties, and targets the incoming administration. The bills contain vague definitions and allow for mandatory summons to legislative hearings without the right to legal counsel. The movement has drawn parallels to the Sunflower Movement in its scale and public support, with up to 100,000 protesters taking to the streets.

Here’s a timeline of key events:

  • May 17, 2024: Protests broke out in Taipei and other places in Taiwan.
  • May 21, 2024: Civic groups gathered on Qingdao East Road, with the crowd growing to around 30,000 in the evening.
  • May 24, 2024: Over 100,000 people gathered to protest the bill.
  • May 28, 2024: The bill was passed, and the DPP announced a legal challenge on grounds of unconstitutionality. Protests continued, with significant turnout across Taiwan.

International reactions

On 20 May 2024, a group of international academics, journalists, former officials (including former American Institute in Taiwan director William A. Stanton), and other critics of the reforms released a joint statement asserting that the proposed bill granted the Legislative Yuan “excessive power compared with other constitutional democracies and has not been allowed sufficient review by the public or DPP lawmakers.”

Overseas Taiwanese in the United States organized a campaign to promote the Bluebird Movement in support of the protesters, raising US$80,050 within three hours to feature a billboard in Times Square in New York City. On 4 June 2024, over 100 Taiwanese gathered in Times Square to support the Bluebird Movement, with the organizers reporting 500 attendees. Students and professionals overseas organized an international petition to protest the abuse of legislative powers, and signers included Taiwanese in the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

Taiwan’s future: challenges and opportunities

Taiwan is on the cusp of significant changes and internal tensions. While these do not currently pose an immediate threat, the Lai administration will face considerable challenges in advancing its reform agenda. China is closely monitoring the situation, aware of the DPP government’s potential vulnerabilities. Concurrently, Chinese military incursions around Taiwan persist, with the island constantly under threat from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

For the Taiwanese government, the primary goal remains to uphold democratic principles and strengthen international relations, not only with the United States, which has recently signed arms agreements with Taiwan, but also with European Union countries. Maintaining and expanding these diplomatic ties is crucial for Taiwan as it navigates this period of political uncertainty and external pressure.

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