KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — If you can tell the state of a party from the caliber of its officials, then the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) in Kaohsiung is in dire straits indeed.
When you think about the KMT and Kaohsiung, the immediate thought is of Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) and his unique brand of confident incompetence. In Li Meizhen (李眉蓁), however, the KMT have proved that it is possible to be every bit as ill-informed without having the charisma to cover it up.
Li hit the headlines this week when she asked Han’s replacement as Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) about the decision to terminate the High-Speed Rail (HSR) line at Zuoying rather than continue it all the way into the city to terminate at Kaohsiung Central Station.
It is a legitimate point. While the area around Zuoying HSR has undoubtedly benefited from the decision, there is an argument that the city center would have benefited more and given the whole city a boost rather than just one suburb.
The problem is that, as KMT politicians are prone to do, Li pitched this question as an attack on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and accused them of failing the city.
There is just one problem with this line of attack. The decision to terminate the HSR in Zuoying was made not by DPP officials, but by the KMT!
The decision was made by the KMT minister of communications at the time, Mao Zhi-guo (毛治國), and his deputy minister Ye Kuang-shi (葉匡時). They rejected the model of using an underground railway to bring the HSR into Kaohsiung Central Station on the grounds of cost.
It was estimated that this model would have involved an outlay of more than NT$100 billion whereas the Zuoying model only cost NT$55.4 billion.
Readers can make their own decision about whether or not this was a sensible decision, but at the time the DPP opposed it. So, in trying to use the decision to attack the DPP, Li Meizhen made herself look more than a bit stupid.
She is not the first KMT politician to make such a glaring gaff and the chances are she won’t be the last. For a party that is already struggling in the polls and to make itself appear relevant to Taiwanese voters, mistakes of this type cannot afford to keep happening.
One silver lining to Li’s poor research is that she has shone a light on the question of the future of the HSR in Kaohsiung. Plans for the southern extension to take it to Pingtung are currently routed around the city rather than through the middle.
Again, the cost is one of the decisive factors, along with the inconvenience caused by tunneling a railway line through the heart of the city. It should be noted though that the city has only just put a decade of similar disruption behind it after the regular railway line was tunneled and the dramatic new Kaohsiung Central Station was built.
The benefits of building a direct connection to the HSR into Kaohsiung city center, which has declined in recent years are obvious. Previously, investment and infrastructure had largely focused on the harbour area, Weiwuying, and Zuoying.
Such a move would also enable the HSR to connect directly to Kaohsiung International Airport. This would provide a valuable boost to this crucial southern Taiwan hub and the city’s infrastructure more broadly.
It is not too late for the Taiwan government to rethink these plans and ensure the Pingtung HSR extension really delivers for Kaohsiung. However, if they are going to look at this again, I would recommend they don’t employ Li Meizhen to research it.