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June 23, 2017

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Divided capital may be what is needed to unite the nation

South Korea inaugurated a new mini-capital, Sejong City, on Monday July 2, with 16 of the government's ministries and agencies to be relocated there by 2015. The mini-capital, with 120,000 inhabitants, is currently a miniscule creature compared to Seoul, a metropolitan area comprising a fifth of the country's population at 10 million people. However, the very concept of moving the capital — or transferring parts of the government apparatus to another city — is one that has been considered by Taiwan as well, with various proposals in the past suggesting a relocation of the nation's administrative organs from Taipei to cities in Southern or Central Taiwan.

The need to address housing prices, and to a lesser extent the divergent standards of living between the north and other parts of Taiwan is perhaps the most compelling reason for undertaking such a project. The skyrocketing costs of homeownership are hurting Taiwan's younger generation. Taipei is the envy of the rest of the country because of its command of financial institutions, transportation, and consequently resources such as elite universities and hospitals. Taipei is thus a magnet for foreign businesses, whose presence feeds the loop of resource monopoly.

To counter such a trend, with ill side effects such as overcrowding and unaffordable housing costs, plus the associated urban issues such as poor air quality and traffic congestion, dividing the capital is an option worth considering.

The same issues that South Korea is seeking to address should motivate Taiwan to carry out a serious re-evaluation of its own national urban and countryside development schemes, long bogged down by bureaucratic inertia and the tendency to dismiss the proposals as untenable due to the complexity of the enterprise. Premier Sean Chen in April offered a measured demurral, saying that he will carefully assess the proposals, and that the complexities of the potential project are daunting due to the country's established commercial systems being already in Taipei.

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