Beipiao (北漂), or “northern drifter,” has become a popular catchphrase in the political arena. It has prompted bickering among mayoral and county commissioner candidates and stirred up debate among talking heads on political TV shows since Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) claimed that as of last year, nearly 410,000 Kaohsiung natives had moved to Taipei in search of better jobs.
Beipiao originated in China, where “Beijing drifter” denoted young people from provincial areas who left their hometowns in search of work opportunities in the Chinese capital.
Blaming 20 years of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) governance of Kaohsiung for making the city “old and poor,” Han has pledged that, if he is elected mayor on Nov. 24, he would double its population in 10 years — from 2.77 million people to 5 million — by shoring up investments to create abundant job growth.
However, statistics suggest that the “northern drifter” phenomenon has affected all of Taiwan, not just Kaohsiung. According to government data, New Taipei City has a population of 700,000 “northern drifters” from Yunlin County, while the population in Miaoli decreased from 561,000 in 2008 to 533,000 last year, with nearly 28,000 having relocated to Taipei.
Floating populations are a general trend in contemporary society, and Taiwan is no exception. As the capital, Taipei doubles as the political center and economic hub. Its better opportunities and resources are a talent magnet, drawing people from across the nation.
The era of authoritarian rule under the former KMT regime concentrated all of the political power, fiscal power and virtually all of the nation’s resources, major public infrastructure, commercial headquarters and other services in Taipei, resulting in the regional disparities of today.
In other words, while beipiao might be a popular term now, the phenomenon that it depicts has been around for 60 years. It is dumbfounding to witness KMT politicians seeming to only now discover it.
The nation has been plagued by a decades-old regional imbalance and is certainly in serious need of having administrative and economic resources redistributed.
During a plenary question-and-answer session at the Legislative Yuan in October last year, Premier William Lai (賴清德) proposed relocating the nation’s capital to Taichung, expressing the hope of having northern Taiwan serve as the economic hub, central Taiwan as the administrative hub and southern Taiwan as the political hub.
In 2016, when Lai was mayor of Tainan, he proposed that the Presidential Office should be relocated there, saying that relocating government agencies from Taipei to other cities would solve uneven north-south development.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Sunday said that past administrations focused more on developing the north than the south, and again promised to develop Kaohsiung into a center of technological development for the national defense industry.
As the saying goes: “Well begun is half done.” From the expectations and pledges of Lai, Tsai and Han, the DPP and the KMT seem to be sharing a rare moment of agreement, finally seeing eye-to-eye on the need to rebalance the economic and political divergence between northern and southern Taiwan.
Hopefully they will press on, realizing their goal of righting the balance of regional development in the nation — and not just settle for blowing hot air or painting rosy pictures at election time.
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