Last week, the government announced the launch of the 6,150 hectare Taoyuan Aerotropolis project — requiring the expropriation of 3,211 hectares of land, the demolition of 15,000 houses and affecting the lives of 48,000 people. The government says the NT$463 billion (US$15.8 billion) project is to make Taoyuan International Airport a transport hub for East Asia, generating NT$2.3 trillion in economic benefits, NT$84 billion in tax revenue and generating 260,000 jobs.
If the project looks good on paper, without a doubt everyone will be happy, so long as the evicted residents are kept informed, well compensated and relocated effectively. However, with the exception of the zoning of the 1,770 hectare Airport Special Zone, which includes a third runway and the 705 hectares of expropriated land to be used for the Quality Living Area, details are scarce on the Aviation Services Living Area, the Trade Exhibition Area, the Airport-compatible Industrial Area, the Coastal Recreational Area, the Value-added Agriculture Exhibition and Trade Area and the Free Trade Zone, however impressive-sounding their names may be.
It is by no means clear that businesses will actually be enticed to locate there, especially since the Free Trade Zone will face the 4,435 hectare Taipei Harbor development that lies just to the north. It was only last year that the highly controversial evictions, demolitions and relocations for the harbor project were finished, so it is still impossible to know how successful attempts to attract businesses to its industrial and recreational areas will be.
Now the government is proposing another, even more ambitious plan, but it is difficult to see how simply drawing up these plans will stimulate economic development and create jobs if domestic industries do not become more competitive. All it will do is fuel land speculation and inconvenience thousands of people.
The government predicts that by 2030 Taoyuan airport’s annual passenger traffic capacity will increase to 75 million. According to the airport’s Web site, the highest figure for passenger traffic was in 2010, when it stood at 25.11 million, slipping to 24.05 million the next year. How did the government come up with the optimistic estimate for 2030 which amounts to three times current levels?
Wildly inflated claims do nobody any good. What we need to see is substantive, detailed forecast analysis of how the government proposes to increase tax revenue by NT$84 billion and create 260,000 new jobs. I have heard countless economists, urban planners and think tank members express doubts about this plan. They have their own name for it. Far be it for me to badmouth the idea, I am simply trying to caution the government not to rush into things, especially when it involves expropriating so much land and forcing people to move. Caution is advised.
Land is limited and we cannot afford to take it up with under-used industrial parks. The plan is suffering from a reality deficit. It is incumbent upon the Control Yuan to set the Cabinet straight.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has willingly signed up to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). He has created legislation subordinating domestic law to the covenants and obliging the government to implement them. The ICESCR requires the government to guarantee the right to housing and forbids forced evictions solely for reasons of economic development. Yet the government is contemplating embarking upon the largest program of evictions in Taiwan’s history, which will affect huge numbers of people, not just in the name of economic development, but as sacrifices for politicians desperate to hold on to power.