Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu at his swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Handout

Han Kuo-yu, the newly elected mayor of Kaohsiung, has proposed a de facto relocation of Taiwan’s capital city out of Taipei, suggesting that whoever wins the island’s 2020 presidential election should run the administration from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city.

Han, who is with the pro-Beijing Kuomintang party, trounced rivals in November’s Kaohsiung mayoral election and altered the political landscape in the city, formerly a decades-long bastion for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Han said in a city council question-and-answer session this week that he would consider running Taiwan from Kaohsiung if he was elected president, and urged whoever does win the 2020 race to relocate part of the central government to the city.

“While the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan complex can continue to be in Taipei, the president could work from Kaohsiung and be briefed by the premier, who would still be based in Taipei as the head of the Executive Yuan, on a weekly basis,” Han said.

He expounded further on his plan to accelerate the development of Kaohsiung and, more broadly, southern Taiwan, which has become an economic backwater compared with the more industrialized Taipei and its sprawling conurbation in the north.

He said rekindling growth in Kaohsiung would be high on his agenda, as spelled out in his election platform to make Kaohsiung “great again.” His key policy initiatives would include enticing businesses and departments of the central authorities to relocate to the city to narrow the social and economic disparity between Kaohsiung and Taipei.

Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second-largest city, but it has been losing out to Taipei amid the shift of economic gravity to northern Taiwan. Photo: Asia Times

Kaohsiung, home to most of Taiwan’s heavy industries and port and logistic sectors that propelled the island’s economic ascent throughout the 1980s and 1990s, is now marred in stagnation and an exodus of talent and businesses reacting to the pull of Taipei.

Moreover, the DPP’s decades-long rule of the city has failed to orchestrate a turnaround, which is part of the reason local voters ditched the party and placed such high hopes in their new mayor.

Observers say Han stands a decent chance to win next year’s presidential election when measured in the popularity stakes, as his approachable demeanor has appeal even to hardcore supporters of the DPP. Han is also known for honoring his election pledges, and thus the chances of a southward shift of Taiwan’s politics cannot be ruled out if he becomes Taiwan’s new president.

But Taiwan’s incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen has brushed off such plans touted by Han as to rezone industrial plots for export-oriented companies and entrepôt services to attract Chinese companies to package their goods for export to the US.

The embattled Tsai, who now faces an onerous task in defending her presidency after the DPP’s drubbing in last year’s regional elections, has not minced words in dismissing Han’s scheme as aimed at blurring the distinction between Taiwan-made goods and Chinese exports.

It is noteworthy that Tsai’s chief of staff, Chen Chu, was Kaohsiung’s mayor for eight years. Her tenure in the city was punctuated by project deploys as well as a disastrous gas explosion in 2014 near the city’s downtown area caused by substandard petrochemical gas pipelines and poor maintenance.

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