In recent years, the government has suffered in the midst of an economic downturn, an outdated organization and outdated legislation. In addition, there is also insufficient coordination between central government agencies, and local government policy implementation is coercive.
As a result, the public often feels that government land expropriation is more akin to forcible land enclosure. This even led farmers to gather for an overnight demonstration on Ketagalan Boulevard in downtown Taipei, while other farmers staged protests locally.
The fact is that, with the exception of the early export processing zones and the Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan’s industrial zoning policy has been a failure. The reason for this is the lack of a national land development plan, a basic land utilization plan, an industrial zoning plan and a concrete economic development plan — deficiencies exacerbated by incapable civil servants, insufficient information and bad timing. These factors have all combined to establish innumerable industrial parks without industrial transformation.
Once the investment environment deteriorates and enterprises begin to move out of Taiwan, much of the land and many of the factories in the industrial zones or science parks will become idle. Unfortunately, officials have not studied how to bring about industrial transformation or effectively utilize the land. Instead, they have proposed the development of the third and fourth stages of the Hsinchu Science Park, the Central Taiwan Science Park and the Southern Taiwan Science Park.
The land for some other sites, such as the planned science park in Jhunan Township’s (竹南) Dapu Borough (大埔), in Miaoli County, have been obtained by forcible expropriation of farmland.
Moreover, the authorities in charge of Taiwan’s industrial zones are unwilling to compromise. Despite the laws governing land expropriation, the government’s methods remind us of the land enclosure movement in Britain, or even communist nationalization. For example, the National Science Council is in charge of science parks, and the Industrial Development Bureau of the Ministry of Economic Affairs is in charge of industrial zones.
However, local governments also have the power to expropriate land to establish industrial zones. With authorities carrying out such chaotic and unregulated expropriation and with confusing legislation that gives no consideration to the willingness of farmers to give up their land or the fundamental conditions required for establishing industrial zones, it seems the only goal of officials is to follow instructions from further up the hierarchy or to build interest groups to prioritize their own political careers.
Taiwan’s economic development strategy should focus on research and development-oriented parks, which do not require much land. This means that officials must start thinking along new lines. They should not make the mistake of believing that developing a few hundred hectares of land for industrial or science parks will guarantee industrial upgrading or innovation.
Forced expropriation of farmland makes farmers nervous, depressed and brings some of them to suicide, or its brink.
At the same time, industrial upgrading is problematic, which creates a situation where more conglomerates profit from land speculation, while cities and counties nationwide compete to rent out their farmland for industrial use. This is worrisome indeed.