Ma’s latest albatross: the Taoyuan Aerotropolis
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-03-07 01:59 PM
The prestigious Taoyuan Aerotropolis project will have to be a success or Taiwan can say bye-bye to its future, Transportation Minister Yeh Kuang-shih said in a recent interview. He also mentioned that the success depended on one important factor, the transit of Chinese passengers through Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

Yeh’s admission showed that the project is yet another example of President Ma Ying-jeou putting all of Taiwan’s eggs in China’s basket and gambling on the result being a success.

Considering the results of his other pro-China economic policies such as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and his push for the approval of the service trade pact by the Legislative Yuan, the prospects cannot be optimistic.

Over the past six years, the president has rolled out many catchy slogans and grandiose plans packaged in fancy names, but the results have been less than impressive. Even this year, Ma has still emphasized he will focus on boosting the economy. The question remains whether he will be able to achieve in the two last years of his final term what he has failed to deliver over the past six.

Yeh’s emphasis on the survival of the Aerotropolis being dependent on Chinese travelers spending a few hours at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in between flights sounds unlikely to provide much optimism for the future.

His phrase also provides China with an unexpected trump card in future negotiations. In return for allowing citizens for second-level cities and areas to transit in Taiwan, it can demand extra concessions from the Taiwanese side.

Beijing cannot be expected to let such a good opportunity to influence Taiwan go by without taking advantage. Even if it is likely to put a positive spin on its attitude, it is more than certain that China will demand concessions in return for the measure.

The moves could push Taiwan further in the direction of Hong Kong and Macau, damaging its status as a sovereign and independent nation.

On the other hand, if Beijing insists on forcing through unreasonable demands and Taiwan refuses, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis could turn into another giant white elephant.

Even if China’s communist government decides to agree to the project, it is never certain that it will not break its word if the opposition wins the next presidential elections in 2016. Beijing might well decide to dump its interests in Taiwan, leaving the government here with an empty shell on its hands, not to mention claims for compensation.

The Ma Administration’s plans for Taoyuan are offering the country’s Achilles’ heel directly to China, commentators have said. Beijing will gain a direct say in whether a major Taiwanese economic project can be viable or not, and it is more than likely to impose its conditions before making concessions. The move amounts to a further downgrading of Taiwan’s sovereignty and to the handing over of economic advantages to a country which has still more than a thousand missiles targeted on the island.

Official data reportedly show that the total number of passengers might rise by 30 percent if the transit passengers from China show up in the amounts estimated by government sources. Some officials even speak of increases between 40 percent and 60 percent. Targets for 2030 speak of 75 million passengers passing through Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, or two-and-a-half time more than current figures.

Airport officials on the other hand speak of an increase of only 10 percent or 3 million passengers, a figure significantly distant from the positive estimates supplied by government officials touting the project.

The widely varying predictions show a government unsure of whether what it wants to achieve is possible. The statements can only provoke even more skepticism about its ability to deliver results beneficial to the economy. In the end, more concessions to China might be the only visible consequence of the Aerotropolis project.

The size of the plan is also likely to lead to a repeat of the confrontation between the authorities and the public seen at sites like the Dapu pharmacy, where the Miaoli County Government bulldozed four homes of families unwilling to accept the building of a road to a science park.

The cost of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis to local residents is unlikely to be limited to a smaller scale. The total area will encompass 30,211 hectares and involve the destruction of 15,000 homes, the disappearance of six villages, the relocation of ten schools, influencing a total of more than 48,000 people, reports said.

The amount of land involved occupies up to half all the land reclaimed by the government over the past 60 years. Originally, there was only a plan for main buildings and for a third airport runway, but the Taoyuan County Government expanded the project. The plans come on top of the Taipei Harbor project in the Pali area of New Taipei City and the establishment of a special trade zone.

The sudden upsurge in the size of the area has drawn accusations that government and business are colluding to rake in profits, rather than preparing for a long-term viable development project.

In addition to the potential damage to Taiwan’s sovereignty and to residents’ standards of living, the Aerotropolis could also have dire consequences for the country’s defense capabilities. The Taoyuan military base will be removed from the area, possibly causing the Navy’s anti-submarine potential to face a reduction in effectiveness and cutting Taiwan’s already falling capability to defend itself against the rising Chinese military machine.

The government needs to retrace its steps and base its projections on more realistic evidence. China cannot be allowed to set a foot in the door in the decision-making process for crucial Taiwanese economic plans, otherwise the island will turn into a voiceless affiliate of the Chinese industrial giant.

The past six years of the Ma Administration have been marked by repeated moves on the diplomatic and economic front that tie Taiwan’s fate closer to China, but in the end the policy will bear political consequences that can only be detrimental to the country’s sovereignty and independence.

If Taiwan is not careful, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis could end up as the latest albatross to join a long list of economic mirages produced by the Ma Administration.

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