Mon, Mar 11, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Han pursuing ‘hawker economy’

By Huang Tien-lin 黃天麟

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) biggest lie seems to be his own slogan: “Get the goods out and tourists in, so Kaohsiung can make a fortune.”

First, what does “goods” refer to? The Port of Kaohsiung’s container volume last year was 10.44 million twenty-foot-equivalent units, an increase of 40.1 percent from 2000.

After the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the 2016 elections, national exports set a record by rising for 24 consecutive months, before starting to fall late last year.

The nation’s export dependency was 57.8 percent last quarter, higher than that of South Korea, at 36.5 percent, and Japan, at 14 percent. The claim that Taiwan cannot get the goods out is nonsense.

Next, do foreign tourists not visit Taiwan? As the nation attracted a record 11.07 million tourists last year, any claim that they do not would be false.

Maybe Han’s slogan refers to Taiwanese exports to China and Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan.

Exports to China account for 41 percent of total exports, which is already too high, and although the number of Chinese tourists has fallen over the past two years, 2.73 million Chinese still visited last year, more than the 1.89 million Japanese visitors.

In other words, the number of Chinese tourists is high enough and it should not increase further, or the quality of the nation’s hospitality could slip.

Thus, Han’s slogan of “getting the goods out and tourists in” puts a spin on the nation’s economic story, inverting it as he seeks to draw in the downtrodden and unaware. With the pan-blue camp’s political maneuvering, he has sparked a “Han wave,” pushing him into the limelight.

Han’s economic thinking is a greater disaster. Since taking office in December last year, he has proposed the construction of a “love Ferris wheel,” a Disneyland, a horse racing track, casinos and a night market for the Lunar New Year holiday, while also trying to attract film theaters, and the wedding and romance industry.

He has invited the Lalu resort hotel chain to establish a Kaohsiung branch, as if he were encouraging Chinese investors to speculate in real estate. This could euphemistically be called a “civilian economy,” but is in reality a “street vendor economy” (攤販經濟). Could that really give a boost to the national economy?

Taiwan is a developed country. If Taiwanese want to maintain a foothold internationally and enlarge their role in the global supply chain, technology should remain the priority, which would boost the economy and help the nation keep up with other technological powers.

Taiwan must not be allowed to backslide into a dependent economy. Tourism, horse racing, gambling and hawkers are all highly dependent on visiting customers.

The nation only has a population of about 23 million. The number of service sector workers would need to rise sharply if Han’s economic ideas were to become mainstream. That would suppress the cultivation of high-tech talent, and the average income would not grow.

If this were to happen, the national economy would surely deteriorate and gradually fade from the international stage.

Huang Tien-lin is a national policy adviser to the president.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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