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Divided capital may be what is needed to unite the nation

The United Daily News reported that as recently as June 24, former Vice President Lu talked about a certain secret government report that predicted the “impending doom” of both Taipei and New Taipei City if a rainstorm on the scale of Typhoon Morakot in 2009 were to make landfall in the north. Such sensational reports aside, what are the reasonable outcomes for a shift in administrative locales?

The relocation of Brazil's capital from Rio de Janeiro in the last century was a significant example of important national policy being carried out with an express target of ameliorating developmental imbalance. Brasilia was inaugurated as the capital of Brazil in 1961. The national relocation project served the purposes of spearheading economic development in the vast hinterlands of the country. The project is praised today as an architectural gem, successfully rebalancing educational, economic, and administrative resources throughout the nation, yet as late as 20 years after its inauguration, the government was still having to pay citizens to move there, according to urban planning lecturer Claudio de Magalhaes via the BBC. From a population of 200,000 at its inception to more than two million today, Brasilia has experienced remarkable growth, and South Korea's Sejong city is projected to grow exponentially as well within the next two decades — to 500,000 by 2030.

The full extent of the necessary investment for such a national project is a daunting one, and Taiwan should not compare itself to big countries like Brazil — with its 8 million square km of territory — in terms of the mindset of trailblazing. At 36,000 square km, it is not suitable to talk about creating a new “dream city” here because the radius to any given metropolis on the island is too narrow. The lack of space means that instead of building from scratch, rebalancing national development could be better undertaken by a decision to relocate the centers of government to a city like Taichung or Kaohsiung — or, given the realities of autonomous branches of government, to resettle important branches of government and thus operate on a “split” plane.

For its part, the government can demonstrate its commitment to sustained, equitable, and resilient national policy by hosting panels on the topic and inviting experts on urban policy and economics, as well as architecture and environmental protection, to forums dedicated to producing a long-term national development plan focused on addressing imbalance.

Sending a team of observers to study Sejong, perhaps in three years when much of the relocation is supposed to have taken place, can allow Taiwan to assess the results of South Korea's efforts at a difficult but potentially transformative project.

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