US embassy cable - 99TAIPEI3700

KAOHSIUNG OBSERVES 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FORMOSA MAGAZINE INCIDENT

Identifier: 99TAIPEI3700
Wikileaks: View 99TAIPEI3700 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: American Institute Taiwan, Taipei
Created: 1999-12-14 07:46:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV SOCI TW
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 140746Z DEC 99
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7505
INFO AMEMBASSY BEIJING
AMEMBASSY SEOUL
AMEMBASSY TOKYO
AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE
AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
AMCONSUL HONG KONG
AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
AMCONSUL SHENYANG
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TAIPEI 003700 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPT ALSO FOR EAP/RSP/TC 
DEPT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON 
FROM AIT KAOHSIUNG OFFICE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV SOCI TW 
SUBJECT: KAOHSIUNG OBSERVES 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 
FORMOSA MAGAZINE INCIDENT 
 
1. (U) SUMMARY: IN KAOHSIUNG ON DECEMBER 10, 1979, A 
GROUP OF DEMONSTRATORS CONNECTED TO THE "DANG WAI" 
(OUTSIDE THE PARTY OR NON-KMT) MAGAZINE "MEILIDAO," OR 
FORMOSA, ATTEMPTED TO MARCH TO A NEARBY PARK WHERE THEY 
PLANNED TO RALLY IN COMMEMORATION OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN 
RIGHTS DAY. SHORTLY AFTER THE MARCH BEGAN, THE 
DEMONSTRATORS RAN INTO A SOLID PHALANX OF POLICE. THE 
VOLATILE SITUATION WAS EXACERBATED BY THE PRESENCE OF 
HUNDREDS OF LOCAL "LIUMANG" (HOODLUMS) RECRUITED TO ACT 
AS AGENTS PROVOCATEURS. IN THE MELEE THAT ENSUED, A 
NUMBER OR DEMONSTRATORS AND POLICE WERE INJURED. THE 
EVENT LED TO A CRACKDOWN IN WHICH MANY OF THE DANG WAI'S 
SUCCESSOR DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE PARTY'S (DPP) CURRENT 
LEADERS WERE AMONG THE 150 PEOPLE ARRESTED. THE 
ANNIVERSARY HAS BEEN THE OCCASION FOR A SPECIAL EXHIBIT 
AT THE KAOHSIUNG HISTORY MUSEUM AND A SERIES OF SYMPOSIA 
ON THE EVENT. AIT/K SPOKE TO A NUMBER OF JOURNALISTS, 
SCHOLARS, WITNESSES TO AND PARTICIPANTS IN THE EVENT TO 
GET A SENSE OF THE HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE 
OF THE INCIDENT. END SUMMARY. 
 
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 
--------------------- 
2. (U) FORMOSA MAGAZINE'S FIRST ISSUE APPEARED ON AUGUST 
29, 1979 AND SOLD MORE THAN 110,000 COPIES. CIRCULATION 
QUICKLY INCREASED AND BY THE THIRD ISSUE HAD REACHED 
NEARLY FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND COPIES. THE MAGAZINE'S 
KAOHSIUNG OFFICE OPENED ON SEPTEMBER 28. THE MAGAZINE'S 
EXPLODING CIRCULATION AND ITS FOCUS ON DEMOCRACY AND 
TAIWANESE IDENTITY UNNERVED A KMT LEADERSHIP ALREADY 
SHAKEN BY THE UNITED STATES' DECEMBER 1978 DECISION TO 
SWITCH DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS FROM THE ROC TO THE PRC. 
AGAINST THIS BACKGROUND, THE DECISION BY THE MAGAZINE'S 
STAFF TO ORGANIZE A MARCH AND RALLY TO COINCIDE WITH 
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ON DECEMBER10 LED TO THE 
VIOLENT CONFRONTATION WITH POLICE ND TROOPS FROM THE 
TAIWAN GARRISON COMMAND, AND TO THE SUBSEQUENT CRACKDOWN. 
THESE EVENTS LAUNCHED THE CAREERS OF MANY OF TODAY'S DPP 
LEADERS. 
 
DECEMBER 9: THE KUSHAN INCIDENT 
------------------------------- 
3. (U) THE EVENT WHICH HELPED SPARK THE VIOLENCE OF 
DECEMBER 10 WAS THE ARREST AND BEATING OF SEVERAL OF THE 
MAGAZINE'S STAFF WHO WERE PUBLICIZING THE NEXT DAY'S 
MARCH AND RALLY. SHORTLY AFTER DARK ON DECEMBER 9, 
SEVERAL VOLUNTEERS ON THE STAFF, INCLUDING CURRENT DPP 
LEGISLATOR DAI ZHEN-YAO, SET OFF IN SPEAKER TRUCKS FOR 
KAOHSIUNG'S KUSHAN DISTRICT. AS THE DRIVERS ENTERED A 
NARROW STREET, THEY ENCOUNTERED SEVERAL LOCAL POLICE 
OFFICERS WHO ATTEMPTED TO STOP THE TRUCKS BY LYING DOWN 
ACROSS THE ROAD. AFTER A BRIEF STAND-OFF THE MAGAZINE 
STAFF BODILY REMOVED THE POLICE FROM THE ROAD AND 
CONTINUED ON THEIR ROUTE. A SHORT DISTANCE ON, THE ROAD 
WAS BLOCKED FORE AND AFT BY POLICE VEHICLES AND POLICE 
OFFICERS WHO BROKE ONE TRUCK'S WINDSHIELD AND BEAT THE 
DRIVER. 
 
4. (U) IN THE FIGHT THAT FOLLOWED, TWO OF THE MAGAZINE 
STAFF WERE ARRESTED AND TAKEN TO KUSHAN POLICE STATION. 
WHEN WORD OF THE ARRESTS SPREAD, A CROWD OF SOME SIXTY 
PEOPLE INCLUDING DPP ELDER AND FORMER PARTY CHAIRMAN SHIH 
MING-TE (THEN THE MAGAZINE'S GENERAL MANAGER), SURROUNDED 
THE STATION AND DEMANDED THE RELEASE OF THE PRISONERS. 
THE MOOD OF THE CROWD TURNED VIOLENT WHEN IT WAS LEARNED 
THAT THE PRISONERS HAD BEEN DRAGGED UPSTAIRS BY THE FEET 
AND THAT ONE HAD SUFFERED A CONCUSSION. ACCORDING TO 
DAI, POLICE ARMED WITH RIFLES AND BAYONETS SURROUNDED THE 
CROWD, WHICH HAD REFUSED ORDERS TO MOVE ON. THE TWO WERE 
EVENTUALLY RELEASED AT ABOUT 2:00 AM AND THE CROWD 
DISPERSED. THOUGH THERE WERE NO SERIOUS CONFRONTATIONS 
WITH POLICE AT THE STATION, THE INCIDENT INCREASED 
TENSIONS AND SET A CONFRONTATIONAL TONE FOR THE FOLLOWING 
DAY. 
 
DECEMBER 10: THE KAOHSIUNG RIOT 
------------------------------- 
5. (SBU) THE DECEMBER 10 MARCH WAS TO HAVE BEGUN AND 
ENDED AT KAOHSIUNG ROTARY PARK, TAKING A CIRCULAR ROUTE 
PAST THE HSIN HSENG POLICE STATION. APPROXIMATELY SIX 
HUNDRED MARCHERS SET OFF. ONLY TWO HUNDRED METERS INTO 
THE MARCH, THE DEMONSTRATORS ENCOUNTERED A SOLID WALL OF 
RIOT POLICE WHILE THE ROAD ON BOTH SIDES WAS OCCUPIED BY 
APPROXIMATELY 400 LIUMANG ALLEGEDLY RECRUITED BY THEN 
KAOHSIUNG MAYOR WU YU-YUN. ACCORDING TO SEVERAL OF OUR 
INTERLOCUTORS, THE TWO LEADERS OF THE GANGSTER ELEMENTS 
WERE TSAI SUNG-HSIUNG, WHO IS NOW DEPUTY SPEAKER OF THE 
KAOHSIUNG CITY COUNCIL, AND CHANG HSING-WU, WHO IS ALSO A 
CITY COUNCILMAN. (NOTE: WU YU-YUN HAS CONSISTENTLY 
DENIED ANY INVOLVEMENT IN RECRUITING GANGSTERS TO DISRUPT 
THE MARCH. END NOTE) 
 
6. (U) WHILE THE ENSUING SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IS NOT 
ENTIRELY CLEAR, WITNESSES AND PARTICIPANTS AGREED THAT 
THE GANGSTERS ACTED AS AGENTS PROVOCATEURS, ATTACKING 
BOTH POLICE AND MARCHERS WITH BAMBOO POLES AND IRON RODS. 
IN THE MELEE THAT ENSUED THE POLICE USED TEAR-GAS AND 
RIOT STICKS TO BREAK UP THE MARCH. REPORTS OF INJURIES 
RANGE FROM THE HUNDREDS TO MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND WITH 
ONE DEMONSTRATOR LATER DYING OF HIS INJURIES. OVER THE 
NEXT MONTH, MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY PARTICIPANTS 
AND SYMPATHIZERS WERE ROUNDED UP. SHIH MING-TE AND SIX 
OTHERS WERE TRIED IN MILITARY COURTS AND SENTENCED TO 
PRISON TERMS OF BETWEEN TWELVE YEARS AND LIFE. SEVERAL 
INTERVIEWEES TOLD US THAT ONLY PRESSURE FROM US 
CONGRESSMEN AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS 
PREVENTED SHIH MING-TE FROM BEING SENTENCED TO DEATH. 
THIRTY-FOUR OTHERS WERE TRIED IN CIVILIAN COURTS AND 
SENTENCED TO TERMS OF FOUR TO SIX YEARS. THE ARRESTS 
EFFECTIVELY SILENCED THE OPPOSITION UNTIL ITS LEADERS 
WERE PAROLED IN 1987. 
 
7. (SBU) COMMENT: THE POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 
MEILIDAO INCIDENT IS THAT IT WAS THE CRUCIBLE IN WHICH 
THE CAREERS OF TODAY'S OPPOSITION LEADERS WERE FORGED. 
THE LIST OF THOSE ARRESTED AND JAILED IS A WHO'S WHO OF 
THE OPPOSITION MOVEMENT. AMONG THEM ARE DPP VICE 
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ANNETTE LU (LU HSIU-LIEN), FORMER 
DPP CHAIRMAN AND PARTY CO-FOUNDER SHIH MING-TE, CURRENT 
DPP CHAIRMAN LIN YI-HSIUNG, DPP FOUNDING FATHER HUANG 
HSIN-CHIEH, LEGISLATOR DAI ZHEN-YAO AND NATIONAL POLICY 
ADVISOR CHOU PING-TE. OTHERS, INCLUDING DPP PRESIDENTIAL 
CANDIDATE CHEN SHUI-BIEN AND KAOHSIUNG MAYOR FRANK HSIEH 
(HSIEH CHANG-TING), GOT THEIR POLITICAL START AS 
ATTORNEYS DEFENDING THE ARRESTED ACTIVISTS. ONE 
COMMENTATOR SAID THAT HE BELIEVES THAT PRESSURE FROM THE 
UNITED STATES ON KMT-RULED TAIWAN TO DEMOCRATIZE 
INCREASED AFTER 1979 AND LED DIRECTLY TO THE END OF 
MARTIAL LAW, THE END OF THE BAN ON POLITICAL PARTY 
FORMATION AND THE END OF RESTRICTIONS ON THE PRESS. 
 
8. (SBU) COMMENT (CONT.) OUR INTERLOCUTORS AGREED THAT 
THE MELIDAO INCIDENT WAS THE TURNING POINT IN TAIWAN'S 
DEMOCRATIZATION. THE IDEOLOGICALLY FRACTURED TANG-WAI 
WAS TRANSFORMED INTO A COHERENT POLITICAL PARTY CAPABLE 
OF FORMING A VIABLE OPPOSITION. THE INCIDENT AND THE 
OPEN TRIAL OF THE ACCUSED RAISED POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS 
IN TAIWAN AND BROUGHT HOME THE VALUE OF DEMOCRACY. THIS 
IN TURN LED THE ELECTORATE TO SUPPORT THE ACTIVISTS, 
THEIR FAMILIES AND THEIR DEFENSE TEAM AT THE BALLOT BOX 
ENABLING MANY OF THEM TO BECOME ELECTED OFFICIALS AT ALL 
LEVELS. TAIWANESE OVERSEAS ORGANIZED INDEPENDENCE 
MOVEMENTS WHILE SCORES OF TAIWAN GRADUATE STUDENTS 
ABANDONED THEIR STUDIES IN THE US, EUROPE, AND JAPAN TO 
RETURN HOME AND JOIN THE POLITICAL PROCESS. THUS WERE 
SET IN MOTION THE FORCES WHICH HAVE MADE TAIWAN A 
VIBRANT, MULTIPARTY DEMOCRACY, AND PUT THE OPPOSITION DPP 
IN THE POSITION OF MOUNTING A SERIOUS CHALLENGE TO 
CONTINUED KMT RULE IN THE MARCH, 2000 PRESIDENTIAL 
ELECTION. END COMMENT. 
 
DUNN. 
BURGHARDT 

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