Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Front Door and the Back Yard

The Front Door and the Back Yard
United Daily News editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
June 5, 2007

Despite Chinese Communist Party suppression, Xiamen residents protested the Taiwan based Xianglu Group's local Paraxylene (PX) chemical plant for two straight days. The crowd grew as large as 20,000 at one time, and converged from all directions at the town center. For the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan businessmen, it was a scene to remember.

This demonstration, ignited by Taiwan businessmen, reveals a number of facts: First, from a political perspective, the power of the Internet and cell phone text messages has successfully challenged the Chinese Communist Party's strict political and social controls. Second, from a social perspective, after a decade of prosperity, mainland Chinese society has established a foundation of comparative wealth, and the public is no longer willing to sacrifice environmental safety in its pursuit of economic prosperity. Third, from a cross-Straits economic and trade perspective, this is a sign that the advantages Taiwan's capital once enjoyed on the mainland are fading. "Taiwan businessman" and "Taiwan capital" are no longer letters of safe conduct guaranteeing smooth sailing all the way.

Chen Yu-hao's Xianglu Group has been operating in the Xiamen area for quite some time. Last year it added plans for investment in a Paraxylene chemical plant, provoking widespread controversy. Investors and the local government were perhaps the last to know. The plan was for a large scale plant costing 10.8 billion Renminbi, producing petroleum products for which current market supplies are inadequate. Regarded as a key national industry that merits encouragement, it received a warm reception. But the production process may release carcinogens, and the production site is only seven kilometers from Xiamen's central business district. Over 100 commissioners from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference questioned its safety, raising an alarm among the Xiamen public and brewing up a storm of environmental protest.

In response to this unprecedented public demonstration, the Xiamen government adopted a combined soft and hard policy. On the one hand, on the eve of the protest march, it announced a postponement of construction on the Paraxylene plant to dispell public anxiety and dissatisfaction. On the other hand it exerted all out pressure through the party machinery and political channels to prevent personnel from taking to the streets. It even canceled the officially mandated Children's Day holiday. But Internet and cell phone information technology defeated the government's attempt to intervene. Invisible organizers, invisible circulars, invisible posters, and invisible crowds converged promptly at the protest site, adding a new leaf to the history of modern day protest movements in China.

Beijing's leaders in Zhongnanhai have probably been busy pondering countermeasures to this new environmentalist movement, especially since the demonstrators have threatened to extend activities through June 4. On Taiwan, besides watching this environmentalist movement from across the Straits, besides savoring the retribution delivered to a white collar criminal, besides enjoying the spectacle, don't we have any deeper insights?

When Xiamen citizens shouted "oppose PX, protect Xiamen" they were also announcing the fact that Taiwan businessmen on the mainland had arrived at a watershed. First, the attempt to prolong Taiwan's "Three Highs," i.e., high health standards, high technology, and high added value by investing on the mainland has reached the end of the road. Second, Taiwan's cross-Straits economic advantage has leveled out. The appeal of Taiwan businessmen and Taiwan capital for the mainland is greatly diminished. In the past, as long as Taiwan businessmen brought investment capital, they were treated as VIPs. Now merely having investment capital is not enough. Now the capital must be wisely invested and bring real benefits. Not only that, once the idea of balancing environmental protection and economic growth takes root in the hearts of the mainland public, even high tech Taiwan industries on the mainland will be evaluated according to their environmental impact as well as their economic profitability.

Lee Teng-hui's "Avoid Haste, Be Patient" Policy and Chen Shui-bian's "Aggressive Management, Effective Opening" Policy attempted to take advantage of cross-Straits economic disparities. In the end, they proved to be mere self-deception. Mainland China's opening to the world is obviously not subject to control by Taiwan's investment capital. Taiwan could have become the front door to the mainland, a passageway to the mainland. Unfortunately Taiwan used an ideological lock to lock itself inside its own home, preventing island based businesses from "going west" to make their fortunes. The Xianglu Group has encountered environmentalist opposition to its heavy industry and chemical industry investments. This is hardly a problem confined to Chen Yu-hao alone. If the government remains as deluded as ever, and keeps businesses bound hand and foot, the losses inflicted upon Taiwan's high tech industries will be infinitely greater than the losses suffered by the Xianglu Group.

The theme of this ten thousand person protest march was "opposition to pollution," not "opposition to Taiwan businesses," proving that it was rationally motivated. Whether this was due to the long-standing relationship between Xiamen and Taiwan, or due to the fact that Zhao Yufen, the organizer of the protest was Taiwanese, its rational nature is reassuring. But the Xiamen public's opposition to polluting factories located "in my back yard" cannot be ignored, and is something that all Taiwan businessmen must be aware of.

Is Xiamen Taiwan's front door or its back yard? Is mainland China the front door or the back yard? This is something to think about. Taiwan remains unaware that its status has degenerated from "front door" to "back yard" in only ten short years.

Original Chinese below:

2007.06.05 04:15 am


這 項因台商而點燃的抗議示威,透露了多重訊息:第一,從政治面看,網路及手機簡訊的穿透力,成功挑戰了中共嚴密的行政控制及社會控制。第二,從社會面看,歷 經十年的繁榮,中國社會已奠立了相對豐厚的基礎,民眾不再為追求經濟成長而犧牲環境安全。第三,從兩岸經貿看,這也是台資在大陸的絕對優勢消退的徵兆,台 商的頭銜和資金都不再是無往不利的保證。

陳由豪的翔鷺集團在廈門海滄經營已久,去 年新增這項PX廠投資計畫,卻引起如此廣大的爭議,恐怕是投資人和當地政府均始料未及者。這項計畫,是總資金達一百零八億人民幣的大型建設,將生產目前中 國市場供應不足的石化產品,一度被當成「國家重點鼓勵發展產業」,頗受禮遇。但由於生產過程可能釋放致癌物質,且生產基地距離廈門市區僅七公里;三月間一 百多位政協委員聯名對其安全性提出質疑後,立即喚起了廈門民眾的危機意識,短短時間即醞釀了這場迅雷不及掩耳的大型環保抗爭。

對 於這場史無前例的群眾示威,廈門市政府採取的是軟硬兼施手法:一方面在遊行前夕宣布PX計畫「暫緩建設」,以化解群眾的疑慮和不滿;一方面透過黨政體系全 力施壓,要求各單位人員不得上街,連當日的兒童節都取消放假。然而,網路及手機的資訊網絡還是戰勝了行政干預;一場看不到發起團體、看不到傳單海報的集 會,人群卻如有默契般地準時湧現,寫下現代中國公民示威的新頁。


當 廈門市民喊出「抵制PX,保護廈門」時,其實也宣告了台商登陸已來到分水嶺:一,島內「三高」產業藉登陸投資延續生命之路,已經走到盡頭;二,台灣在兩岸 的經濟優勢,如今已被追平,台商及台資對大陸的可欲性已大為降低。過去,台商只要帶去資金,即被對岸奉為上賓;現在,光是資金是不夠的,要看資金用途及帶 來什麼益處。不僅如此,一旦「環保與經濟孰重」的觀念在大陸民眾心中生根,未來即使台灣高科技產業登陸,也將因受到雙重檢驗而加倍困難。

從 這個角度看,從李登輝的戒急用忍到陳水扁的管制登陸,以為可藉此維持兩岸的經濟差距,結果證明只是自欺欺人的遊戲。中國在向世界開放的大氛圍下,其成長顯 然未受台灣資金管制的影響;相對的,台灣原本可以將大陸視為自己的「前門」,借道進出,可惜台灣卻用意識形態的大鎖封死自家出口,反而壓抑了島內企業西進 轉型的機會。今天翔鷺的重化投資因環保面臨了遭到拒絕的命運,這其實不只是陳由豪的問題;若政府依舊執迷不悟,我們的高科技產業被五花大綁綑死的生機,恐 怕比翔鷺PX廠的投資損失要嚴重千萬倍。



No comments: