Talks on Taiwan school curriculum break down

Taiwanese student leader Wang Pin-chen (centre) speaks to reporters before their meeting with Taiwan's Education Minister Wu Se-hwa (not pictured), demanding him to scrap 'China-centric' school curriculum's guidelines and his resignations, in Taipei,
Taiwanese student leader Wang Pin-chen (centre) speaks to reporters before their meeting with Taiwan's Education Minister Wu Se-hwa (not pictured), demanding him to scrap 'China-centric' school curriculum's guidelines and his resignations, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug 3, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP) - Talks between Taiwanese student protesters and education officials broke down Monday after an emotional meeting about controversial changes to the school curriculum which have been slammed as "China-centric."

Students asked Education Minister Wu Se-hwa to retract the schoolbook guidelines, which have sparked protests that escalated last Thursday following the suicide of a young activist who opposed the changes.

Protesters stormed the ministry compound in the early hours of Friday following the suicide of 20-year-old activist Lin Kuan-hua, and some remain camped out in the square.

Wu said during the talks, which lasted for more than two hours, that there was nothing "unlawful" about the new curriculum, while the seven students attending the meeting were angered at what they saw as a lack of compromise.

"We came here today with the intention to compromise, because we are tired," a tearful Chen Chien-hsun told reporters afterwards. "But the needle didn't move at all."

Nearly a thousand people rallied outside the ministry on Sunday, calling for the curriculum changes to be scrapped and for Wu to step down, while paying tribute to Lin.

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.

Concern is growing, especially among the young, at perceived increased Chinese influence over Taiwan in the wake of a rapprochement with Beijing forged by current President Ma Ying-jeou.

Crowds are still occupying the area, with tents pitched to shield those camping overnight and protect them from high temperatures during the day.

Chu Chen, a leading protester, also wept as he spoke about Lin during the meeting, TV footage showed.

"Those of us who are running the protests have been keeping it all inside," an emotional Chen said to Wu. "Minister, will you suspend the curriculum change until next year?"

Wu said teachers can choose to use old versions of textbooks or the ones published under the new curriculum that was announced last February.

"Just because there's controversy doesn't mean it's wrong," Wu said.

The curriculum changes under debate include a reference to Taiwan being "recovered by China" instead of "given to China" after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.

The 50-year period of Japanese rule is also referred to as an era when "Japan occupied" the island, replacing the previous phrase "Japan governed".

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