Sat, Aug 12, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taichung residents are no winners

By Albert Shihyi Chiu 邱師儀

Taichung’s population has grown to 2,778,200 people, which means the city has officially surpassed Kaohsiung as the nation’s second-largest city. The turnaround in the city’s fortunes will no doubt delight Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), as it will win him additional kudos within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over his rival, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), and it will also be advantageous to his winning a second term in next year’s mayoral election.

Two months ago, it was a very different story. In just under two years, the Taichung City Government has increased borrowing by NT$30 billion (US$988 million), yet the budget for its Department of Economic Development was reduced this year.

As for investment into Taichung, Lin has only been able to attract a NT$2.5 billion investment from a Japanese shopping mall chain, Mitsui Outlet Park.

Even more depressing for Taichung residents, according to Ministry of Labor statistics on employee pension contributions for last year, the average salary in Taichung is NT$30,771. This is not just lower than Kaohsiung, it also ranks as the lowest among the six special municipalities, and is even lower than Miaoli County (NT$35,766) and Yunlin County (NT$34,217).

Furthermore, according to a 2015 report on household incomes by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, average disposable income per capita is NT$426,633 for Taipei, NT$319,904 for Kaohsiung — and a slightly more respectable third place for Taichung, at NT$311,948.

However, this is still almost NT$8,000 less than in Kaohsiung. Has Taichung really triumphed over Kaohsiung?

Taiwan is not a “least developed country” and should therefore long ago have dispensed with the notion that “bigger populations are better” — an idea that belongs in agrarian societies.

Here are some further thoughts on Taichung:

First, there is the so-called “Taipei effect.”

Kaohsiung is constantly locked in competition with Tainan, the south’s other major city. Tainan is home to the Southern Technology Park, which means that there is no pressing need for Tainan residents to move to Kaohsiung to develop their businesses and aside from Pingtung County, Kaohsiung finds it difficult to attract talent from other areas.

Taichung is different. The neighboring counties of Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou — and even Chiayi and Yunlin — do not have the resources, commercial opportunities and business potential of Taichung. If the residents of neighboring cities and counties do not want to move all the way to Taipei, they will naturally gravitate toward Taichung.

However, the farther away a city is from Taipei, the easier it is for it to become marginalized.

After the High Speed Rail (HSR) started operating, this further exacerbated the problem. Once it became possible to commute daily between Taichung and Taipei, the convenience of the HSR allowed Taichung’s economy to develop at a much faster pace relative to Kaohsiung.

This is the reason behind Taichung’s population growth. Lin cannot take credit for his city’s unique geographical advantage.

Second, salaries are crucial to individuals’ happiness and well-being. However, the residents of Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung all suffer from low salaries. Paradoxically, those who suffer the most from this situation are the younger Democratic Progressive Party supporters who helped bring the party into government in last year’s elections.

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