Taiwan offers students olive branch in curriculum crisis

A sign reading " Step down, cold blood minister (Wu Se-jwa) " is placed in front of policemen at the entrance of the Education Ministry in Taipei on Aug 4, 2015.
A sign reading " Step down, cold blood minister (Wu Se-jwa) " is placed in front of policemen at the entrance of the Education Ministry in Taipei on Aug 4, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's government promised to review its controversial new school curriculum Tuesday after protests by students who have slammed it as "China-centric".

But angry students who have been camped out in the compound of the education ministry after storming it on Friday have vowed to stay, saying their demands have not been met.

The crisis was triggered by the suicide of young activist Lin Kuan-hua who opposed the curriculum changes.

Smaller protests against the adjustments have been going on for months, including students breaking into the education ministry building.

Talks with Education Minister Wu Se-hwa broke down on Monday in an emotional meeting with students, who have threatened to escalate their actions.

The government said Tuesday the ministry should review the curriculum policy and that schools could choose whether or not to use the curriculum in the year ahead.

"Since the demands of the students have been met, we hope the students can go home or back to schools. Let's put the whole thing to an end," parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng told reporters as he outlined the plan.

But students said they had no intention of leaving the camp, where around 100 people are staying in tents, despite warnings of a typhoon.

"We're not sure whether a review will have any real impact on our demand to retract the curriculum. Actually we don't even really understand what it will do," said student Paul Peng, 18.

"They've just given us the same decision as before," added university student Shaun Yang.

"We asked for Wu to step down and delay the curriculum - they haven't agreed to either."

The crisis comes as concerns grow, especially among the young, over increased Chinese influence in the wake of a rapprochement with Beijing forged by current President Ma Ying-jeou.

Self-governing Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war, but Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory and does not rule out force to achieve reunification at some stage.

Lin, 20, was one of 30 students, along with three journalists, arrested last month for breaking into the ministry in anger at the curriculum changes.

His death has become a highly politicised tragedy.

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the main opposition Democratic Progress Party (DPP), visited protesters outside the education ministry early Tuesday morning, local media reported.

The DPP also issued a statement in response to the government's announcement saying it would play an "active role" to ensure transparency in the review process.

Hacking network Anonymous Asia launched a string of attacks on Taiwan's government websites in recent days in support of the students.

"It's time to stand up and defend Taiwan, to safeguard our next generation," the group said in a Facebook post.

Anonymous, which uses the comic-book "V for Vendetta" mask as its symbol, last year targeted websites of the Hong Kong government and a pro-Beijing political party during mass protests calling for democratic elections.