The media recently turned to the controversy surrounding Kaohsiung's attempt to find a location for a popular music center. The conflict is typical of those that have afflicted the city's development over the years, but it also reveals a deeper problem that residents who are concerned with the city's long-term development should note.
It is difficult for the average resident to imagine the difficulty of administering Kaohsiung. The crux of the problem is land ownership, which affects urban development. Nearly 60 percent of the urban area is controlled by the central government, which presents a unique challenge for urban development.
All this land was appropriated and then redistributed by the central government under its policy of industrialization. It was transferred to state-run enterprises and business agencies under the Ministry of Economic Affairs at low prices and with low taxes to lay the foundations for the nation's economic development. This land includes Kaohsiung Harbor, large industrial parks, state-run enterprises in the city center and large military installations.
The central government directly controls what is built on this land and how it is used. The local government has very little say in the matter. Long-standing criticism that Kaohsiung's lack of sovereignty and overdependence on the central government has made it a "colony" of the politicians in Taipei, or that Kaohsiung is an economic outpost for the central government because it lacks an autonomous economic policy, are not unfounded.
More often that not, the land the central government takes for its business agencies and state enterprises was not given voluntarily by the Kaohsiung City Government.
For example, in 1947, despite resistance from the Kaohsiung City Council, operation of the Kaohsiung Harbor was entrusted to the central government under the pretext that the local government was incapable of managing international shipping operations. The harbor thus became an agency under the central government to support its economic and trade policies. It was a virtually autonomous commercial port, whose development was completely separate from that of the city.
It is hard to determine what positive contributions the harbor has made to Kaohsiung. Its supporters might say it brought employment opportunities -- dock workers, customs officials and shipping companies. But with Taipei actually serving as the hub for the majority of the nation's international shipping, it is debatable whether Kaohsiung Harbor has helped develop the southern city's industries or create tax revenues.
Bottom line is that Kaohsiung did not benefit greatly from the plan, and instead had to bear the negative consequences of being a shipping, transshipment and industrial city.
With the rise in international competition, Kaohsiung Harbor's fortunes have also dwindled. As global container shipping expanded with the explosion in international trade, efforts to make Kaohsiung Harbor more efficient and competitive required expansion of its shipping container areas. However, that did not stop Kaohsiung Harbor from its downward slide in global ranking. Its loss of competitiveness in bulk shipping prompted the Kaohsiung Harbor Bureau to draw up a plan 10 years ago to transform it into a recreation and tourism area. Once again, this plan was clearly aimed at Kaohsiung Harbor -- not Kaohsiung City.