When it comes to developing the tourism sector, Taiwan often finds itself in a clearly contradictory situation. On the one hand, Taiwanese envy the natural and tranquil beauty of the countryside in developed countries, while on the other hand, the nation’s own countryside is being destroyed as fast as possible, almost as if any area without large buildings, highways or large hotels is a sign of backwardness. However, there is nothing backward about a lack of large buildings and highways; what is backward is the lack of confidence this mode of thinking represents.
Many years ago I went on holiday to a small island in Southeast Asia. The sunset on the island’s coast was extremely beautiful. I discovered several especially beautiful strips of beach without a single person on them and several other strips of beach that were dirty, noisy and full of locals. I asked my friend who was showing me around why the locals did not go to the other more beautiful and cleaner stretches of beach, instead of all crowding into the one area. My friend gave a wry smile and said this was because after many years of development, all the beautiful strips of beach had been sold to international hotel corporations and that what the locals were left with were these few pieces of leftover land that even the government was not interested in developing, and that they could not do anything about the mess. This sort of thing had not happened in Taiwan at that time, so I was very shocked. My friend also said that they had not just sold off their beaches, but also their dignity.
Taiwan has now reached the same stage. The nation is confronted by a massive wave of ignorance, short-sightedness and greed that threatens to completely destroy its coastline, culture and ecology. What is worse is that this destruction and theft of land is supposedly being carried out in the name of developing the local tourism industry.
A few days ago, the head of a certain government department talked with all the confidence in the world about how clean the Miramar Resort Village in Taitung County is, how much work has already been performed on it and how it would be a pity to demolish it. However, all the locals in the area know that the place where the resort is being built, Shanyuan Bay (杉原灣), has always been beautiful and pristine. This is precisely why they are so upset and precisely why corporations are coveting this piece of land.
After the Eastern Development Act (東部發展條例) was approved on June 29, all of the forests and beaches of the entire east coast are in danger of being bought up by corporations. The entire east coast is full of slogans on billboards proclaiming “sustainable development.” However, what is really happening is that the environment is being destroyed in the name of this supposed development.
It is high time that Taiwanese started thinking about what “development” actually means and what type of development they want. I do not believe that paring down forests, conducting beach dredging and filling projects, ignoring the opinions of local residents and building ugly concrete hotels in the name of a superficial boom in tourism are the only ways to build a future for Taitung. Taitung’s breathtaking landscape has given birth to a culture and magnanimity among its locals that is much larger than that.
Where does Taitung’s hope lie? I believe it lies in the immense dignity the local people are showing in the fight against the very people who are trying to take their land away from them.
Ko Yu-fen is an associate professor of journalism at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Drew Cameron