Taiwan Without Petrochemical Industry…

What would have happened had petrochemical industry ceased to exist in Taiwan? The Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) under Taiwan's Ministry of Economical Affairs has tried hard to convince Taiwanese citizens that if Taiwan does not build more petrochemical industrial plants, its economy will collapse and people will suffer. On the other hand, environmentalists, activists, and bloggers are looking forward to seeing the end of such a polluting industry destroying the island's lands, water, and air.

On September 6 and September 7, 8 half-page advertisements were published in the four major newspapers in Taiwan, telling the readers that “Without petrochemical industry, we won’t have new toothbrushes, new bicycle tires, new umbrellas, and new ink to print newspapers.” The IDB is the mastermind of the advertisements, and also plans to publish thousands of handbooks for demonstrating the value and benefits petrochemical industry has brought to Taiwan. This series of propaganda aims at persuading Taiwanese to support the government's decision to build the new Kuokuang petrochemical plant on the biggest wetland of Changhua County[en].

So far, IDB has spent TWD 3 million (about USD 100,000) of  taxpayer’s money on the ads to defend private corporations’ interests. Environmental groups[zht] and media and press watch organizations[zht] reacted to such an abuse of public expenses by making open statements, while bloggers and online activists adopted a different approach.

Wenli Xu, a well-known Nintendo collector and online activist, designed another set of ads to tell his readers his vision of Taiwan without petrochemical industry: [zht]:


Without petrochemical industry, old grandmas don’t have to protest (against the pollution and industrial incidents) with their bare feet.


Without petrochemical industry, the huge explosion and fire in the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Project[en] would not have happened.


Without petrochemical industry, White Dolphin will not swim away.


Without petrochemical industry, we don’t have to be afraid of acid rain even without holding our umbrellas.


Without petrochemical industry, villagers and country people would not have to siege the plant in protest.


Without petrochemical industry, the Ministry of Economical Affairs won’t spend TWD4~5 million taxplayers’ money to buy ads anonymously.


Without petrochemical industry, we don’t have to see such bullshit printed.

Umi Wang on Facebook followed Wenli and designed four other ads to mock at IDB's propaganda. Below are two of them:


Without petrochemical industry, how can government officials earn money from corruption?


Without petrochemical industry, where to find poisonous air for us to inhale?

A Facebook fan page has been set up to invite people to share their vision of Taiwan without petrochemical industry.


Without petrochemical industry, Yunlin county can hold folk game festival like Yilan County does.

Hedula Lee: 沒有石化業,石油要怎樣消耗殆盡?

Without petrochemical industry, how are we going to use up all the petroleum reverse on earth?

Dailin Lin 林黛羚: 沒有石化業,抽煙才吸得到煙味。

Without petrochemical industry, then you can get the real taste of cigarette when smoking. (Author's note: People living nearby Formosa Petrochemical Plants in Yunlin county complain that they can't even distinguish the smell of cigarette when they are smoking because of severe air pollution from the plants.)

The output value of petrochemical industry accounted for TWD 1.3 trillion (USD40.6 billion) in 2009, showing its undeniable economic contribution. However, independent environmental news reporter Shuchuan, quoted statistics from the Energy Bureau under the Ministry of Economical Affairs, which indicated that in 2009 petrochemical industry and other high energy consumption industries together used 36.3% of all energy in Taiwan, while generating less than 4% of the island's GDP[zht].

So why is the government still eager to expand such an inefficient industry? Munch provided us with a deliberated answer[zht]:


For the government, to build Kuokuang Petrochemical Plant is not just for the industry itself, but for the strengthening of economic connection cross the strait.


After China set up the Western Taiwan Strait Economic Zone(HaiXi Zone), the Taiwanese government wishes to integrate upstream (Taiwan) and downstream (China) industries under the cross-strait economic framework. Keeping the petrochemical industry inside Taiwan, it will be included in the early harvest list in ECFA. According to the ECFA's principle of cross-strait cooperative production, Taiwan produces raw material for exporting to China tariff-free. After reprocessing in China the goods can be sold to China's internal market and other ASEAN countries.

However, Munch believes that Taiwan government’s plan is a mere fantasy:


The domestic demand of petrochemical product in Taiwan has already been met. Extra productivity is all for export. However, even if we started to build new plants now, it will still be too late to catch up with the demand from China in 2015 (when ECFA begins). In fact, business people in Taiwan’s petrochemical industry will be more than glad to see the Kuokuang Petrochemical Plant fail in environmental impact assessment so that they can all migrate to China.

Apart from fighting against the ever expanding petrochemical projects in Taiwan, the Environmental Protection Union of Changhua[zht] works to prohibit the government from selling the large piece of wetland in Changhua to Kuokuang petrochemical plant. It has initiated the first environmental trust in Taiwan[en] by urging citizens to collectively buy in the piece of wetland and become shareholders[zht]. More than 30,000 citizens have pledged to join online.


  • Excellent post, Portnoy.

  • Wenli Xu is aiming at the wrong target; just as he is right to complain about being forced to accept the consequences of a petrochemical industry he doesn’t want, others would be right to complain were a government more to Xu’s liking to force them to accept the consequences of not having their jobs in a petrochemical industry.

    What is important here is to eliminate the element of force in the connection between government and what different people want from the market. Therefore the correct target is not the petrochemical industry, but the government itself and in particular, the premise of presumed delegation of authority from the people on which it claims to act.

    Consider: why wouldn’t the government – just like they did with the Miaoli County farmers – simply expropriate the lands purchased in Changhua by the environmental group? What are they going to do then after they’ve thrown away all their money and energy? Beg?

    This campaign will fail because the thinking behind it is simply not serious.

  • It is not a KMT vs DPP issue, and it is a mistake to view everything through that blue-green lens.

    The real issue is whether Taiwan’s society should be governed by voluntary agreements among free individuals or whether some of those individuals calling themselves “government”, get to presume the right to use force in deciding who gets what, where, when and how.

    Consider: where would the entire petrochemicals industry in Taiwan be today if it had never received any leveraging from the government monopoly on violence?

    The aims of environmental protection and alleviating socioeconomic inequalities can only be achieved by extricating the source of the distortions: the presumed power which government arrogates to itself and dispenses to its’ favored business interests.

    So, strategically, one of the first aims of political activism ought to be the removal of the government’s legal provision for land expropriation – irrespective of which party is in power – because this is the trump card which will be used against the environmental group in Changhua if other measures fail.

  • […] as national or even international wetland, due to resistance from local politicians and consortia who support petrochemical project to be built there, the wetland was not listed and therefore there is an obvious empty field on the […]

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