Hardly a week goes by nowadays without farmers, environmentalists, unions and rights activists petitioning the central government over issues of corporate predation upon the land and the individual. While every instance could be looked upon as isolated and unrelated, their frequency in the past two years means that one cannot help but see a trend.
It would be easy to blame President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration for all the ills that have befallen the workers in this country or the inhabitants of areas that are to be destroyed to make room for industrial projects. However, the problem is a more fundamental one, one that has deeper roots than the policies of a single administration. The answers and solutions, if ever we find them, will only emerge when people and organizations that purport to fight for freedom and justice in Taiwan themselves stop exploiting those who work for them.
Sometimes this hits so close to home that we don’t even see it.
One need not turn to forced evictions to see what’s going on. In recent years, too many young educated Taiwanese have struggled to find employment with a wage that enables them to raise a family, let alone buy a home. At the same time, entire neighborhoods, with municipal sanction, are facing the prospect of being razed to make room for new residential buildings that, once they are built, will be well beyond the financial reach not only of new workplace entrants, but to the previous residents as well. Far too often, those new buildings remain empty, totems of financial speculation that only the rich can afford.
The growing injustice in Taiwan isn’t simply an abstract idea: There are signs of it all around us, and no matter who it affects — from the young graduates who despair at the pitiful salary offered by their first employer to the farmers whose land is stolen through expropriation — each case is a form of violence against the individual. Although one cannot solely fault the government for this situation, it nevertheless creates the conditions that make it possible for the powerful to exploit the weak.
Those are issues that need to be raised and debated as we head into the legislative and presidential elections in January. Neither party has done this yet.
Whether Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is too beholden to autocrats that it can’t reverse course on exploitation remains to be seen. As for the Democratic Progressive Party, it will have to go beyond the usual vapid slogans and clearly articulate an alternative policy for national development that is just and avoids government-sanctioned theft of private property. Call this development with a heart, or a road to modernity minus the bulldozers and police contingents.
The role of China in all this is also something politicians will have to look into. While it is still too early to fully comprehend the impact of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), there already is every indication that the so-called “benefits” of the pact have been largely felt by the corporate elite.
As the ECFA is a work in progress, the possibility that this imbalance will be exacerbated cannot be ignored. For one, the benefits could be exploited as “sticks” and “carrots” to reward those who favor it, while punishing those who, for various reasons, don’t.
What is happening in Taiwan isn’t as dramatic as the forced eviction of 1.4 million Chinese for the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. That said, in the aggregate, all the greed-driven injustices perpetrated against Taiwan’s disenfranchised farmers and landowners, workers and young graduates, is no less serious. Injustice isn’t mere statistics. It is a cold, hard reality and it must be stopped lest it continues to spread.
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
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