Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Politics overshadow the needs of the people

By Yen Ching-fu 顏錦福

Can the "small three links" promote the development of Kinmen and Matsu ? The legal basis for the ill-fated small three links trial run was the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例). Its purpose is to "promote the development of offshore islands and the healthy and all-round development of industries, to preserve the natural environment, and to improve the quality of life and the welfare of residents." The small three links, however, have gone ahead for the sake of political considerations.

On the one hand, the links pose a threat to the security of Kinmen and Matsu. On the other hand, what substantive economic benefits will they bring to Kinmen and Matsu so as to boost their development? What we have seen so far is that security concerns far outweigh economic development benefits.

The biggest hope of Kinmen and Matsu residents is for the small three links to turn the islands into transit points between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. This will be difficult to accomplish due to security concerns. The only substantive benefits to Kinmen and Matsu are that decriminalization of small-scale trade may enable the residents to buy fresher and cheaper agricultural produce, criminal acts such as smuggling and illegal migration will be reduced, travel costs to Xiamen will be cut, and the "registered population" of the islands will increase. The difficulties developing offshore islands such as Kinmen and Matsu face are by no means unique.

Even though the small three links have become a focus of public attention, their essential purpose is being overlooked. Shouldn't we sit back and consider what exactly the offshore islands mean to Taiwan's overall development? The state has long ignored the development of its offshore islands, and their residents often feel like they are second-class citizens. In particular, military control put Kinmen and Matsu under greater restrictions than other areas.

Manufacturing industries are especially stifled by their hinterland locations and raw material costs. It will be difficult for the islands to develop manufacturing industries like Taiwan proper because the advantages many other offshore islands have are not found there. Even if the government insists on going in this direction, it will be difficult to reap any benefits. In fact, the most important assets of the islands are their rich tourism resources.

A planned, integrated development of these resources should revitalize the islands. Unfortunately, unregulated tourist activities are gradually destroying the beautiful underwater landscapes -- around Green Island, for example. We do not see any clear, appropriate development strategy for the offshore islands. What we are seeing instead is the continual harping on "tourist casinos." Does the ROC government truly want to encourage its citizens to give up their virtues of diligence and thrift in favor of adventurism? Does the government really want to put so little thought into long-term planning and not allow the residents to share the state resources they have long been denied?

The offshore islands should not be viewed as bargaining chips in cross-strait politics. We should try to understand their unique features, utilize their advantages, and develop industries that are beneficial to them. While developing the economy of Taiwan proper, we should also help the offshore islands find their place and enable them to compete globally. In fact, for most residents of the offshore islands, whether or not the small three links will succeed is not the point. What they are looking for is a future for their home towns. Can they enjoy the same dignity and respect as the residents of Taiwan proper? They are not asking for much and it only takes a little attention from the government.

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