Sunday, August 01, 2010

Expropriation in Changhua Halted

Taichung Harbor from the viewing platform atop the passenger terminal.

Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood---
Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.

The struggle to preserve what's left of Taiwan's blasted environment took an interesting turn this week as a group of farmers in central Taiwan became the thin edge of a potentially enormous wedge. The CNA reported:
Premier Wu Den-yih said over the weekend that the government will not insist on expropriating a plot of farmland for the fourth-phase expansion of the Central Taiwan Science Park (CTSP) as long as the region's sewer and traffic systems are not affected.

Wu's remarks came after the Taipei High Administrative Court ruled Friday that the CTSP expansion plan should be shelved until an environmental impact assessment dispute is resolved.

The controversy arose mainly as a result of protests by residents in Siangsihliao community in Changhua County's Erlin Township over a local government plan to expropriate their farmland to make way for the science park expansion project.

The premier said during a community outreach tour in Taichung County that he has directed the CTSP Administration to conduct an overview of the issue and come up with a feasible solution.

"The government will be more than willing to respect Siangsihliao residents' intention to continue their farming careers as long as stopping the expropriation of their land plots will not impact the park area's traffic and sewer systems," Wu said.
So the Premier announces that the government will not, after all, expropriate the land. Why did it do that?

Someone who actually understands this explained it to me. The Court's order to cease the expropriation is temporary until the appeals process for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) is completed. The case was appealed to the Executive Yuan. Now the Executive Yuan has been dragging its feet on the appeal, not wanting to give a ruling, because when it turns down the appeal, the case will then be appealed to the Adminstrative Court. Now listen close, because here's the kicker: the Executive Yuan doesn't want the case to go to the Administrative Court because it doesn't want the Court ruling on environmental/development cases. The Executive Yuan doesn't want to hand the Court that decision because it will then lose control over the process.

So how can the Executive Yuan (which the Premier heads) prevent that? Simple: not expropriate the land. Then there's no case, no appeal, and no Court out of their control intervening in the process. Sweet, eh? And the Administration can even look like it is obeying President Ma's stated policy to give priority to the environment in disputes between "environment" and "the economy."

The significance here is that this victory, however temporary, signals something new: the willingness of the Courts to intervene in a government development/construction case.

Recall that a major investor in the Guoguang project in southwestern Changhua just pulled out, citing the environment. But with over 1,000 academics signing a petition to kill the project (see post below this one), and local environmental groups buying up land in the area to prevent its construction, it seems what was really the motivator was the upcoming struggle in the Courts. There's quite a bit of money behind that project, but for the first time it seems there is a possibility it might not go through.

Perhaps a new consensus on the environment isn't emerging in Taiwan. But the Courts might well conjure one up, and give it a legal and ethical foundation, if they start intervening.
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mike said...

That one branch of government may struggle for power with another branch and thereby prevent abuses of power is a common trope trotted out in defense of democratic government. It has been refuted again and again simply by the advances of corruption over time.

The court can be corrupted given a bit of time and the theft order will go through eventually.

I say that if there is to be any preservation of freedom in Taiwan, then the people would be better served by learning to disobey and rebel against the stark clear abuses of power by the government in Taipei now long before Beijing is standing over us.

Opposition, if it is to resist corruption, must be based on a clear moral defense of private property and the freedom of the individual - with an intellectual grasp both firm enough and of sufficient reach to extend out to all the implications of that premise.

asian market girl said...

to be fair... Taiwan is very environmentally conscious

D said...

@mike: Exactly what kind of 'disobedience and rebellion' do you have in mind here?

mike said...

So far as specific tactics are concerned - several kinds at least, but one especially obvious tactic:

The Miaoli farmers could have been asked whether they would allow large numbers of people to gather together and stage sit-ins on their rice fields thus forcing the local government to face the political cost of being seen to throw people in jail (or worse) for defending the farmers against state-corporate predation.

Whatever the specific tactic of civil disobedience, it seems to me that there are three important elements:

(1) A clear articulation of the moral precept that violations of the integrity of private property will not be tolerated. Such violations are essentially predatory.

(2) That the actions be non-violent. I am not a pacifist, but the strategic importance of being able to wash off any "violent extremist" smearing is obvious.

(3) The more people participating in such acts of civil disobedience - so long as the above two precepts remain intact - the better because it would demonstrate popular support and could therefore effect political pressure toward the limited end of removing the legal provision for "expropriation".

D said...

@mike: Ok, but given that you can't even convince small numbers of people on this blog to accept what you're saying, where are you going to get "large numbers" of protesters?

By promoting an ideology that most everyone sympathizes with to some degree but almost no one believes in absolutely, aren't you just creating the grounds for the establishment of a Leninist party in which an official vanguard will enforce discipline on the less unenlightened members?

Good point about keeping it non-violent, though.

mike said...


I have convinced small numbers of people on this blog actually; you can see by their comments on various posts at my place.

But look, I'm under no illusions about it actually happening. I'm simply saying that it would be the right thing to do - and then sitting back to appreciate the deafening silence of cowards and fools.