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September 23, 2017

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Taiwan shifts from pollution victim to perpetrator

A Vietnamese court rejected a class action lawsuit filed by over 500 residents who claim that their lives have been severely impacted by the incident.

Adding fuel to the fire, a Formosa Plastics representative surnamed Chu enraged locals by telling a packed press conference shortly after the incident broke that Vietnam had to choose either fishing or the country's industrial development.

Chu's remarks led to the #ichoosefish campaign on social media, setting off a wave of condemnation against Formosa Plastics and raising awareness of the incident internationally.

Confidentiality Agreement

But despite pressure from groups both inside and outside Vietnam, Formosa Plastics still refuses to clarify what chemical compounds were released into the water, what harm they pose to humans and the environment, and how long will take for the local ecosystem to recover and the details of any cleanup operation.

"The compensation is crucial for residents to get past these tough few months, but what they care about the most is how to get their lives back," the Vietnamese priest Hung said, who is in Taiwan seeking assistance from the government in Taipei.

"The US$500 million just evaporated into thin air. We want transparency, we want know how the government is using that money, and when we can start fishing again."

The Vietnamese government said that it has signed a confidentiality agreement with Formosa Plastics, which prevents both sides from divulging any details of the agreement.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) organized a public hearing last week on the incident, collecting ideas from civic groups on how the nation's law could be amended to ensure that no Taiwanese company can repeat the actions of firms like Formosa Plastics in the future.

Chen told The China Post that current laws do not prevent a local company from signing such confidentiality agreements with foreign governments, nor can they compel Taiwanese companies to abide by international standards on pollution controls when operating in a foreign country.

Chen said that with the nation eager to expand its commercial interests abroad — especially in Southeast Asian countries where environmental protection laws are relatively weak — "we must remember never to become the RCA that we so strongly disgusted with."

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