Mon, Aug 01, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Moving the capital can help Taipei, hinterland

By Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍

In the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto were pressured by an alliance of parliamentarians promoting crisis management and urban development to sign a cooperation agreement that would make Osaka a “backup capital” to protect Japan’s national security.

There are many examples of modern democracies moving their capitals. There have basically been two reasons for doing so: to promote balanced national development and risk diversion, to avoid the impact of disasters or foreign invasions concentrated in one area.

Taiwan is not very large, but national development still suffers from great regional differences. The creation or expansion of four new special municipalities also created four different developmental levels in Taiwan: wealthy municipalities, poor counties, offshore islands and marginalized areas.

Any suggestion that the capital be moved has been rejected by the Cabinet, making it a politically difficult undertaking. Using the opportunity offered by next year’s legislative elections, I have joined several legislative candidates in proposing that the capital be moved to Greater Taichung. Such a move would create a more balanced national development, while also relieving the pressure on Taipei.

While Japan’s nuclear power plants are all located more than 160km away from Tokyo, the Jinshan, Guosheng and fourth nuclear power plants are only about 30km away from Taipei, and the Ma-anshan Nuclear Power Plant is less than 80km from Greater Kaohsiung. According to the World Nuclear Association, 12 Taiwanese and Japanese nuclear power plants are the only ones in the world that have been within a 160km radius of magnitude 5.0 or stronger earthquakes.

Taipei and Greater Kaohsiung are two of the cities in the world that are in the greatest danger of experiencing a nuclear disaster. Just like Canberra in Australia and Ottawa in Canada, Greater Taichung is located between the country’s most prosperous cities. Moving the legislature to Greater Taichung would clearly be beneficial to protecting national security in case of nuclear disaster.

It is possible to question the feasibility of keeping the Cabinet and the legislature at separate locations. The fact is that there are many countries where the legislative, executive and judicial institutions are spread out over different cities.

South Africa, for example, has three capitals: Pretoria is the administrative center, the parliament is in Cape Town and the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, but The Hague is the administrative center. New York was once the administrative center of the US, but after the capitol was moved to Philadelphia and then to Washington, it developed into the nation’s financial and economic center, making it a good international example of how a capital can be relieved of pressure.

Does separation of administrative institutions make it more problematic to hold meetings and handle official business? Taiwan has already entered the era of high-speed rail, which has created a large community that can be reached in one day. Turning Greater Taichung into another administrative center would not only make it more convenient for most legislators to hold meetings, it could also expand national resources into Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou cities and counties, Yunlin County and Greater Taichung. Moving the capital is also the only way to get officials from the central government ministries to abandon their Taipei point of view and move closer to people on the ground. This would create a fairer and more diversified development around Taiwan.

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