President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) expressed hope yesterday that the biotech industry will become the nation’s next high-tech industry following the recent scrapping of a controversial petrochemical project.
Speaking while presiding over the inauguration of a biomedical research and development center at the under-construction Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park (新竹生醫科學園區), Ma was referring to the multibillion-dollar Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co (國光石化) project, originally scheduled to be built in a wetland area of -Changhua County, but later scrapped because of stiff opposition from environmentalists.
“We hope the inauguration will represent the start of another major high-tech industry,” Ma said.
The science park plans to establish three centers. Yesterday’s inauguration was for a biomedical technology and product R&D center planned by the National Science Council.
The other two centers — a hospital set up by the Department of Health that will be responsible for clinical experiments and serious disease care, and an incubation center set up by the Ministry of Economic Affairs — have yet to be completed.
The government has been planning the park since 2003, but has suffered delays and setbacks for many years.
Ma said that when he visited the project site as recently as October 2008, it was still just a vacant lot and he said he was happy that the park had finally got off the ground.
“Biotech is the star industry of the 21st century. With the recent scrapping of the Kuokuang investment project, biotech will have to step in to take the place of petrochemicals as a leading industry,” Ma said.
He said that Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s highest academic -institute, and the National Health Research Institutes, have already achieved good results in basic research for biomedicine and medical equipment development.
In addition, National Taiwan University Hospital and Taipei Veterans General Hospital introduced French technology as early as 1984 to develop hepatitis vaccines, he said, adding that the two Taipei hospitals have also been in cooperation with the world’s five top pharmaceutical companies.
These, coupled with government investment of more than NT$20 billion (US$693 million) in biotechnology, have made the biotech field an ideal one for the nation, Ma said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the park and those opposed to it confronted each other outside the park.
Those opposed to the biotech park said that the world has entered a period in which there is insufficient food and the government should not requisition more farmland for urban development. One protest banner proclaimed that “the government has become a bandit.”
The supporters, on the other hand, carried banners reading “no development, no progress.”
Police were mobilized to keep order, but with prior coordination, the two camps restrained themselves from shouting at each other while the president was speaking.