Sat, Aug 27, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Does Taiwan need a new capital?

Recently there have been renewed calls for the national government, or at least some part of it, to be relocated out of Taipei. Eight Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative nominees last month proposed moving the Legislative Yuan to Greater Taichung as part of their campaign platform for the elections in January. In the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster, there were demands that either the legislature or the entire government should be moved out of Taipei because of its proximity to Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant, in Shihmen District (石門), New Taipei City (新北市) and Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant, in Wanli (萬里), New Taipei City.

This is not the first time the issue has been raised, but few of the suggestions have ever appeared to be more than half-baked or vote-getting devices.

Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) moved the Fisheries Agency and the Sports Affairs Council to then-Kaohsiung City in 2007 (the council later moved back to Taipei). In October 2006, two DPP legislators and a Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmaker — supported by 66 of their colleagues, including two from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — proposed moving the capital to central or southern Taiwan. In August 2005, then-vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) suggested moving the capital south or having a second capital in the south to reduce the nation’s economic development gap.

Most of the proponents of such administrative moves have cited the need for more balanced economic development. Many have listed examples of other nations that have moved or split their capitals, or are in the process of doing so. The problem is that such moves were rarely made to balance the development gap, Brazil and South Korea being two notable exceptions. In reality, the motivation was usually the need to find an “impartial” place to outweigh regional, ethnic or political rivalries.

Twelve countries have more than one “capital” — Benin, Bolivia, the Ivory Coast, Israel, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland and Tanzania. In some, the administrative capital is in one city, the legislative and judicial in another (Bolivia) or the financial and cultural center differs from the seat of government (the Netherlands). Malaysia’s parliament is still in Kuala Lumpur, but the federal administration is in Putrajaya. South Africa has three capitals: the administration in Pretoria, the parliament in Cape Town and the judiciary in Bloemfontein.

Such divisions are largely due to a complex mixture of history and politics, or in the case of the Ivory Coast and Myanmar, the personal vanity of the rulers.

Proponents of a move complain about the Taipei-centric view of the central government: one that they feel would be altered if the capital were located elsewhere. However, these critics show their own bias, since the suggested sites for relocation are always in western Taiwan — either the Taichung or Kaohsiung areas. Few, if any, mention the east coast.

Moving the capital to Hualien or Taitung would certainly create a new mindset, if not help speed up the bureaucracy — after all, who wants to be stuck indoors when there are waves calling?

It’s not wrong to think about relocating some or all of the government — unless it is across the Taiwan Strait — but such a move requires careful planning, a lot of new infrastructure and a lot of money. It is not something that could happen in a few months or a year, or be done half-heartedly like Chen’s plan.

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