As the global population continues to increase and the demand for resources continues to rise, competition for resources between nation states is quickly becoming the determining factor for a nation’s survival.
Over the past two decades, questions of national security have expanded from purely military to encompass areas such as food and energy security.
In this context, food security does not mean food safety; likewise water resource security does not refer to clean drinking water, and when one talks of energy safety, this does not mean nuclear energy. Instead, the issue of security in these areas refers to security of supply.
Nation states can no longer afford to limit their strategic security considerations to purely military concerns as they have done in the past — focusing on sophisticated military hardware or building up well-trained and loyal military forces.
Instead, governments must now also consider how to guarantee the continued and stable supply of food, water and energy for their citizens.
For a long time, Taiwanese politicians of all stripes have talked of “supercharging the economy.” Yet rather than underpinning this policy with a food, water or energy security strategy, they have blindly pursued the development of a so-called high-tech economy and promoted land development.
During the development of Taiwan’s four main high-tech manufacturing industries — the DRAM, flat panel, LED and solar power industries — food, energy and water security were often neglected or even sacrificed.
Time marches on and now these high-tech industries have now become capital-intensive manufacturing operations that, in today’s world, are no longer considered to be “high-tech.”
As Taiwan ponders how it can transform its tech sector to be ready for the future, a good starting point would be to stop equating “supercharging the economy” with prioritizing the four big high-tech industries. Instead, food, water, energy and other security issues should be at the forefront of considerations.
In recent years the governments of many Western countries have prioritized policy considerations around these security issues, which no doubt contributed to the dramatic fluctuations in the prices of food, oil and other raw materials witnessed in 2007 and 2008.
Although nearly 10 years have passed since then, Taiwanese policymakers have not forgotten that CPC Corp, Taiwan was forced to cooperate with the then-government’s long-term policy of energy price freezes and suffered losses approaching NT$50 billion (US$1.7 billion). Additionally, at the time officials were forced to exhaust a great deal of time and energy to stabilize the nation’s food supply.
However, when focusing on the economic cycle and other human-caused factors, it can be all too easy to overlook natural factors that might affect resource security.
Last year, NASA said that “coronal holes” — dark, cooler regions on the sun’s surface — are appearing with increasing frequency, which indicates reduced energy and gas levels.
Indian and Russian scientists who specialize in the study of sunspots are becoming increasingly concerned that the sun may be entering a “hibernation period,” which might mean that the Earth will enter a mini ice age as soon as the end of 2019.
It is not difficult to imagine that if we were to enter a mini ice age, food and oil needs would increase dramatically.
Even if Taiwan were willing to spend large sums of money, it is still by no means certain that a future government would be able to guarantee a sufficient and stable supply of key resources.
However, if we take a step back and suppose that this is alarmist talk and a mini ice age never materializes, the nation’s food self-sufficiency ratio is already much lower than European or US standards.
Furthermore, if the tension continues to rise at military flash points in East Asia and in the South China Sea, it is highly likely that this could cause a food security shock in the region, which would affect Taiwan. If food imports were blockaded by a foreign aggressor, how would the government respond?
Additionally, if global warming continues, food production might become unstable. Is Taiwan in a position to withstand these major threats?
Climate change is already posing a serious threat to water resources. In recent years, Taiwan has faced increasingly severe and increasingly frequent water shortages. These shortages have affected farming and food supply, and in times of water scarcity it is always agriculture that is sacrificed to preserve water.
As an island nation, the government’s high-level strategic thinking should start from the premise that Taiwan must develop in such a way as to ensure its continued survival. The government should prioritize thinking around national security issues in the following order: national defense, food, water, then energy.
In a break with policymaking of the past, the government’s production of domestic defense equipment and the items in the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program do address some of the concerns.
However, the issue of food security has once again been overlooked by officials. This will undoubtedly leave many concerned that if the construction of new railways and other basic infrastructure continues to eat up agricultural land, while the growth of solar energy is achieved by taking up arable land, then food security will inevitably become severely compromised.
For some time now, land has been developed in a chaotic fashion by speculators for profit. Meanwhile, local governments have not hesitated to destroy agricultural land and to gain political kudos by building unneeded airports that lie idle. Consequently, arable land has been gradually decreasing over the years.
Officials have also failed to deal with the effects on the farming industry following Taiwan’s entry into the WTO, generally choosing to burn through money by providing subsidies for land left fallow.
Meanwhile, farmers’ associations and wholesalers, under the control of local forces, have exploited farmers, which has reduced the desire of many to continue working in the industry and made it all the more difficult to attract a new generation of younger farmers.
The farming industry is vital to food security. This creates problems, of varying degrees of severity, for Taiwan’s technology and farming industries, but it is also a strategic problem and, above all, it is an issue of survival.
Outdated thinking must be reversed. Reducing the threat from food insecurity must be properly addressed by those in the government responsible for formulating the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program with a set of medium and long-term goals and countermeasures.
Otherwise, when disaster strikes, officials will be wholly unprepared to respond and the pubic will be left to suffer the consequences of their inaction.
Leung Man-to is a political science professor at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Edward Jones
In the closing weeks of 2000, an army of Singaporean government officials descended on Washington to make good on a handshake between then-US President Bill Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟). They had agreed to strike an FTA after a round of golf in Brunei that past November. Running a small city-state, Singapore’s leaders and their diplomats live with their ear to the ground, attuned to the slightest geopolitical movements. They were motivated then by a big-picture strategic concern — keeping the US embedded in their region. An FTA they thought would help do that. It worked. Clinton’s successor,
On Oct. 6, the UN Committee on Human Rights released a statement on the concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region in which at least 1 million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities are incarcerated. On the same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was telling delegates at a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meeting that “happiness among the people in Xinjiang is on the rise.” It was a stark reminder of the CCP’s longstanding practice of trampling on human rights and deceiving the world. In October last year, the Taiwan East Turkestan Association and the Taiwan Friends of Tibet held an event titled
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
Some people are saying the weather has been wonderful this year. That depends on how one defines wonderful weather. The Ministry of Economic Affairs last week announced that the alert level for Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Taichung areas are to be raised from green to yellow, and that water pressure is to be reduced at night. Few households with water tower storage facilities would have noticed any restrictions on their supply, but people concerned with the water situation have been aware for some time that the lack of typhoons this year, coupled with low rainfall, has meant that in the