Make a Star out of Kaohsiung, not SingaporeUnited Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 19, 2010
On Taiwan, Singapore has suddenly become a star. It has become the theme of the five cities mayoral elections.
Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County are being merged into one, and will hold its first mayoral election. Three camps are scrambling to transform Kaohsiung into another Singapore. The most dramatic of these was Kaohsiung County Chief Yang Chiu-hsing, who quit the DPP and during his swearing-in ceremony declared his intention of transforming Kaohsiuing into another Singapore. The media splashed this news across their front pages. In fact Yang Chiu-hsing was merely following in the footsteps of KMT candidate Huang Chao-shun. The week before, at one of his rallies, Huang cited "surpassing Singapore" as his primary goal. Not to be outdone, another candidate, the DPP's Chen Chu, claimed she had already begun planning for a special economic and trading zone, with Singapore as her template.
Estimates for Singapore's economic growth this year begin at 13 percent, and run as high as 15 percent. Among those countries that have made strong recoveries from the global financial crisis, Singapore's has been especially noteworthy.
In recent years many people have called for a totally free "special economic and trading zone." They hope to transform Taiwan into an "island of freedom." They hope to persuade multinationals to establish operational headquarters and operations centers here. Special economic and trading zones share one fundamental trait. They are invariably situated within the freest and most open nations of the world. They take maximum advantage of their freedom and openess to achieve superior competitiveness. Among Asia's Four Little Dragons, Singapore's record is the most enviable. Singapore's per capita income is over twice as high as as Taiwan's.
The government has already created a dazzling variety of SARs. These range from the early "export processing zones" to the latest "free trade zones." Therefore people trumpet "special economic and trading zones," others cannot help wondering, why so many special zones? Why so much redundancy? Some even wonder whether special economic and trading zones are being tailor-made specifically for sweatshops such as Foxconn. Is the gap between wages for foreign workers in SARs and the minimum wage merely for the benefit of Taiwan businesses? Is it merely so they can use cheaper foreign labor? Such endless suspicions are difficult to rebut. But a simple answer is enough: "Create a New Singapore!"
Industries in Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County are withering. Unemployment is at record highs. From Kaohsiung's perspective, such a remedy is just what the doctor ordered. Whatever Singapore has, Kaohsiung has in equal measure. For example, it has an outstanding deep-water port, a pleasant climate all year round, wide expanses of fertile land, a hard-working, frugal, down to earth Chinese population. Greater Kaohsiung has no defects that would prevent her from becoming another Singapore. But for a long time, Kaohsiung was trapped behind an array of trade barriers. It blockaded itself from developments on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. This made it difficult for Kaohsiung to become another Singapore. Even worse, it demoted Kaohsiung from the 3rd largest port in the world to the 13th.
Singapore's governance ranks first in the world. Kaohsiung's city fathers, on the other hand, encased themselves within ideological cocoons. They remained indifferent to the people's desire for growth and prosperity. Everything in Singapore, from its national airport to its public housing, is beautiful and orderly. Kaohsiung on the other hand, remains chaotic and confused. The contrasts are endless. But they can be summed up simply. Singapore's government cares. Ours doesn't.
ECFA has opened Taiwan's doors. In the coming years, it will open itself up to the world. It will remove trade barriers. We are finally doing what Singapore has been doing for the past 30 years. We have finally removed the chains that prevented Taiwan from keeping up with Singapore. Consider this a starting point. Consider our objective circumstances. Greater Kaohsiung has the same natural resources as Singapore. It too can be transformed into a beautiful and pleasant city. Its infrastructure, central business district, and architecture can be raised to the same international standard. These, combined with its unique cultural characteristics, its human resources, its natural beauty, and its leisure facilities, can create an attractive residential and business environment. Kaohsiung will catch up with Singapore. It will also benefit from greater proximity to Mainland China's coastal areas. This will enable it to surpass Singapore.
Perhaps one day people will not talk about how "Kaohsiung hopes to become another Singapore." Perhaps one day the inhabitants of East Asian ports will talk about how they "hope to become another Kaohsiung!"
We have made a star of Singapore. How can we make a star of Kaohsiung? This is not impossible. Lest we forget, Kaohsiung was once the world's third largest port. Kaohsiung's rebirth will mark Taiwan's transformation.
2010.08.19 03:14 am