On Thursday the Cabinet approved a plan to turn a 5 hectare area next to Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) into an international travelers’ zone with meeting and exhibition spaces, hotels, offices and shops. Despite the talk of billions of NT dollars in investment potential and thousands of job opportunities, the question has to be asked — why?
Ministry of Transportation and Communications Vice Minister Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said the airport had the potential to be a “regional aviation hub.” However, isn’t that what the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is supposed to become under the grand Taoyuan Aerotropolis Project that was launched in September?
Questions should be asked before this latest paper airplane of the government takes flight.
The government is under immense pressure to boost the economy, but grandiose development projects that end up cannibalizing each other is not the way to go. Another problem is that these plans are all long-term — the Taipei proposal has a goal of 2030, the same as the Taoyuan Aerotropolis — when the economy needs help right now, this year, next year, 2014, five years from now. Telling people that in 2030 there will be bright and shiny new offices, industries and jobs does not help those who are struggling to find work now nor slow the exodus of college graduates to jobs in China.
Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said the Taipei airport was positioned to be “the capital’s business airport,” serving international flights within the Asia region, including to China.
Yet the government, in trying to sell the aerotropolis plan, predicted that the Taoyuan airport would be able to handle 75 million passengers per year. Given that actual passenger traffic last year was 24.05 million, 75 million is a huge leap, especially if you have a second airport nearby that is siphoning off the burgeoning cross-strait traffic as well as flights to and from nearby countries.
The aerotropolis proposal includes a trade exhibition area, which will surely eat into the Taipei World Trade Center and Nangang Exhibition Hall’s business, as would the Taipei airport’s “multi-functional facilities for meetings and exhibitions.” It also includes an Industrial Area, a Value-added Agriculture Exhibition and Trade Area and the free-trade zone, even though the nearby Taipei Harbor development project also includes a free-trade zone.
It is almost as if government officials have a list of options when it comes to drawing up a new development plan — and they have to pick one item from column A, one from column B, and so on, regardless of whether another free-trade zone or exhibition complex is either warranted or feasible.
The government seems to go in phases with white-elephant projects. Several years ago, before gambling scandals helped destroy the nation’s two baseball leagues, there was a rush to build baseball stadiums everywhere. The trouble was that by the time the stadiums were finished, Taiwan was down to one league with just a handful of teams. Then there was the craze for large cultural centers in every county, many of which just became “mosquito palaces.”
Now the craze is for free-trade zones and massive infrastructure projects that the government is counting on private business investing in because it doesn’t have the money itself.
At this point it sounds like there is far too much overlap between the Taipei airport and aerotropolis proposals. Lawmakers and the public should be asking questions about these projects and their feasibility and asking government officials for concrete details, not more pie-in-the-sky talk — before land is expropriated, before people are forced to relocate to make way for these schemes, before the first concrete is poured.
Development projects are needed to help the economy grow, but they must really create the employment and business opportunities promised and not just be soundbites for politicians.