Taiwan: Suhua Freeway Project Deferred

Suhua Freeway Project has been in dispute for more than a decade. On 22 of December, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) opted for a plan to improve existing highway. However, we are yet to see if this decision will put an end to the controversy and path the way to sustainable development in eastern Taiwan.

The existing Suao-Hualien (Suhua) highway serves as a pivotal connection between Taiwan east and west. The highway runs through steep cliffs along the coastlines – one of the most beautiful sceneries in eastern Taiwan. Yet, driving on this road can be very dangerous because of nasty curves, climbs, falling rocks and landslides, especially in typhoon season or when earthquake occurs.

In order to develop the eastern coastal areas and ensure road safety, the Taiwan government began to plan for the “Suhua Freeway Project” (cn) in the 1990s. However, the project is full of controversies, leading to the policy gridlock for a decade. Supporters of the project argue that the new Freeway will improve road safety and the economic condition in eastern Taiwan, while oppositional voices are critical of its devastating effects on environment and indigenous communities.

Supporters are mostly believers in developmentalism. For example, Lin Zhou-shui, one of the founders of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, compares the dwellers in eastern Taiwan to the shepherds in Africa in his article, “An Atypical Argumentation: Suhua Freeway and Bellicose Bourgeois”:

在National Geographic電視節目看到黑人政府認真取締可憐牧人的牛羊進入保育區時,常感嘆,他們統治菁英把西方中產階級價值內化得真深;更感嘆那些溫馴的窮 牧人為什麼不向高貴的歐美中產階級嗆聲:富裕的你們把麥田牧場復育成野生動物保護區,在經濟上豈不遠比我們萬倍承擔得起?為什麼要我們忍受飢餓來維護你們 中產階級休閒觀光的樂趣和文化品味?當聽到感嘆台灣西部開發使原始野趣及保育生物多樣性的價值盡失,並主張東部生活愈來愈艱苦的百姓忍受回家都不安全的處境也要為大家保留淨土時,我就想到National Geographic的非洲節目。

I was surprised how the ruling elites in Africa have internalized Western bourgeois values when watching the National Geographic's program concerning the government’s tough prohibition against the live stock of pitiful shepherds from entering into conservation areas. I kept wondering why the shepherds did not defend themselves against noble European bourgeois and protested: ‘it is of course very convenient and economical for you to turn the cornfield and the pasture into wild animals conservation area. However, why do we have to endure hunger to satisfy your weekend pleasure and taste?’ The lament about the impact of the development in western Taiwan on aboriginal people and biodiversity and that citizens in eastern Taiwan should live with the dangerous highway in order to preserve the pure land always reminds me of this National Geographic's program on Africa.

Another supporter, KuenWei seeks for a balance between environmental and developmental value:


Everyone of us deserves safety and a safe road back home; yet, because of the high transportation cost, such simple request turns out to be a mirage for the residents in the eastern Taiwan… the mountain ridge makes transportation very inconvenient… However, Suhua Freeway is regarded an environmentally unjust project as it would destroy the natural beauty of the mountain ridge and the overall environment of the island. Nonetheless, people in love still need bread to survive and we cannot ignore the fact that Hualien is a lot more backward than its western counterpart.

On the other hand, oppositional voices are skeptical about the economic benefit of the Freeway Project. Having lived in Hualien for years and completed his master degree there, Smallove, a blogger who partakes in the locally-and-officially-supported campaign, “Sustainable East“, asserts firmly on his blog:


Politicians need the Freeway project for getting votes,
Construction business for selling sand, gravel and rocks,
Opportunists for speculation of land price,
National Expressway Engineering Bureau for keeping themselves busy.
The ignoramuses expect the Freeway to save their lives.
Hualien should indeed improve its living standard. It deserves better living standard than the western flatland area. If we can enjoy good quality education, have enough job and health care services in addition to our nice living environment, do we still need to travel to the west?
Therefore, I need no Suhua freeway. Thanks.

The secretary-general of the Taiwan Green Party, Pan Han-shen also opposes the project:


There is nothing wrong in demanding a safe road back home, but what if we have a wrong prescription for our problem. Moreover, there shouldn't be only one road leading home — and the Suhua Freeway should not be viewed as the only remedy to the development of the east coast. A suggested alternative route connecting Nanao (南澳) and Heping (和平) will not be a freeway and will not make use of the funds allocated for freeway construction.
However, if the government were to reallocate the budget to construct a road for residents of Hualien, they should be given multiple options rather than being forced to choose between the Suhua Freeway and no budget at all.—written by Pan Han-shen and translated by Ted Yang”

The website, “Suhua Bakery”, is established to support sustainable development in eastern Taiwan, it argues against the project and maintains that:


Opinions from supporters of the project, by and large, consist in the safety of the original highway, transportation, outward demands, and tourism development. Yet, it’s about the public affairs and its spending comes from the earning of Taiwanese people… The eastern Taiwan is deficient in manufacturing and high tech industry due to its location. The Freeway would not be able to attract industrial investment and the waste on the project will certainly go beyond the cost.

The recent decision made by MOTC seemed to put an end to the decade long dispute. Among the five proposals put forward by the Directorate General of Highways (DGH), the MOTC chose a combination of proposal No. 2 and 3 on 22 Dec. 2009. The plan is to improve the existing highway and ensure road safety in dangerous section, while at the same time leave room for for further upgrading of the highway into an expressway in the future. The current decision, in partial correspondence with Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, are likely to make the possibility of the sustainable development in eastern Taiwan (as advocated by “Sustainable East” ) much more foreseeable. However, the dispute has been going on for more than a decade, and it recurs whenever the political climate changes. Whether eastern Taiwan will follow the path of sustainable development is yet inconclusive. Time will tell!

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