Politicians and academics in central Taiwan are discussing a proposed relocation of the capital from Taipei to Taichung. They support the relocation on the grounds that central Taiwan's good weather, abundant water resources and relatively infrequent disasters make good geographic sense for a capital.
Residents of southern Taiwan have launched a signature drive calling on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to follow the example of South Korea and pass legislation to move the capital. The New Environment Society of Taichung is also hosting a series of seminars on the issue.
The proposed relocation is a positive approach that deserves serious bipartisan discussion. It is a welcome change from the divisive politics of identity, power struggles between political parties and fights in the legislature that have paralyzed the government and disappointed the electorate.
Because it is a constructive, even visionary proposal, it also has the potential to become an important issue in next year's presidential elections.
Major reforms like relocating the capital will always be challenged. That is the nature of a democratic society in which there are many voices. But if we can discuss this issue with an open mind and seek to avoid conflict, we have before us an opportunity to transform Taiwan.
One way to discuss this issue profitably could be modeled on President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) commitments to the international community known as the "four noes and one not" (四不一沒有).
The first "no" in relocating the capital refers to "no zero-sum game." Relocating the capital does not necessarily mean moving all of the central government's agencies. It means decentralizing various functions of the central government so that no single city undertakes all of them. Take the US for example -- its political capital is Washington while its financial and business capital is New York. In South Africa, different administrative, legislative and judicial capitals house the relevant agencies.
The second "no" refers to no rash decisions. Relocating the capital would entail massive new infrastructure projects that should be evaluated in terms of their impact on the economy, society, culture, defense and diplomacy. It will also impact planning in rural and urban areas. Rigorous planning will be needed to reach consensus on issues that will affect different communities with different priorities.
The third "no" refers to no rush to implement a move. Relocating government agencies will mean transferring civil servants and their families. This will affect not just the civil servants' work, but also their family's access to employment, schooling and health care. Moving government offices must be done in a way that addresses the needs of government employees.
The fourth "no" refers to no political confrontation. This proposal is one that deserves bipartisan support. But relocating the capital will be so complex and so lengthy that no one politician or single party will be able to see it through. Our politicians will have to take up the challenge of looking at the big picture.
The one "not" refers to the concept that the move would not make a winner or loser out of any city. Decentralizing the government would strengthen our national security and increase our competitiveness. This is a good we can all share in.
We need to generate new ideas about how Taiwan can be developed sustainably and how we can use the high-speed rail link effectively. We should take those ideas and draw up a blueprint for the nation in which each locality wins something.
Peter Chen is a professor in the department of environmental science and engineering at Tunghai University. Translated by Eddy Chang
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