Demonstrations against the Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Company’s (國光石化) plan to build an eighth naphtha cracker in Changhua (彰化) between 2008 and 2011 were another significant event in the development of Taiwanese civil society. In particular, Kuokuang Petrochemical sought to build the plant on land owned by the ROC state, pointing to the issue of collaboration between government official and private industry a la the former KMT developmentalist state. KMT government officials including Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Wu Den-Yih (吳敦義) defended the plant as something which would significantly benefit Taiwan’s oil industry in increasing Taiwan’s capacity to produce ethylene, bring jobs to the area, and increase revenue for Taiwan. It was claimed that the cracker would create 375,000 jobs, 460 billion NT in annual revenue, and 933.6 billion NT in future investment.
However, demonstrators did not trust the words of KMT politicians. It was feared that the cracker would significantly increase air pollution in the area, as was with the case with Taiwan’s sixth naphtha cracker, owned by Formosa Plastics (台灣塑膠), leading to negative effects on the health of residents. As the cracker was to be built on 4000 hectare wetland at the estuary of the Zhuosui River (濁水溪), it was feared that endangered species in the area as the Chinese white dolphin (白海豚), with less than one hundred surviving individuals, and wild birds would also be severely impacted.
Anti-Kuokuang Demonstrations in 2010. Photo credit: 鵬智 賴/Flickr/CC
It was also feared that the cracker might lead to the contamination of Changhua’s drinking water supply, or that the cracker’s high water consumption would lead to shortages, something also exacerbated by development of the Erlin (二林) Branch of Taiwan’s Central Science Park (中部科學工業園區), which also was a development product requiring high water consumption.
KMT government officials also played down the ecological damage which the cracker would cause, as in Wu Den-Yih’s famous “white dolphin” gaffe in which he stated that the innate ability of the white dolphin to make sharp turns would allow the endangered species to avoid harm. The mockery which followed was an early example of Taiwanese activists mocking KMT officials through kusos and other forms of Internet memes. It was also claimed variously that if the naphtha cracker was not built, Taiwan’s oil industry would collapse. Indeed, such claims seem to be quite frequent from large industrial companies with close ties to the KMT—it is often claimed, similarly, that without the construction of Gongliao (貢寮) Nuclear Reactor No. 4 or the use of nuclear energy in Taiwan, Taiwan will be unable to meet any of its energy needs.
Photo credit: 鵬智 賴/Flickr/CC
Groups involved in demonstrating against the Kuokuang included the Taiwan Rural Front (台灣農村陣線), the Taiwan Society of Wilderness (荒野保護協會), the Wild At Heart Legal Defense Foundation (台灣蠻野心足生態協會), the Green Party of Taiwan (台灣綠黨), the Taiwan Environmental Protection Information Association (台灣環境資訊協會), the Alliance for the Protection of the Pink Dolphin (台灣媽祖魚保育聯盟), the Youth Synergy Foundation (青平台基金會), the National Youth Alliance Against Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Project (全國青年反國光石化聯盟), and other groups. Opposition to the Kuokuang cracker was noteworthy for pioneering the participation of legal experts in the movement as spearheading strategies opposition to the cracker as well as the participation of noted figures in society, such as Academia Sinica professors, famous novelists as Wu Mingyi (吳明益), the poet Wu Sheng (吳晟), directors, and others, both of which were also seen in the Sunflower Movement. The Kuokuang opposition movement also pioneered use of social media to mock KMT politicians, as seen in the “White Dolphin” meme mocking Wu Den-Yih and through livestreaming of key protests.
Likewise, this began the strategy of appealing to the central government to intervene in a local issue by building pressure, a strategy widely used in Taiwanese social activism since then. This was eventually successful, with the Ma administration calling off the cracker in 2011 under the weight of opposition and likely in order to build the chances for reelection. Later environmental demonstrations included protests against development on the Tamsui River’s (淡水河) north shore, and the cutting down of historic trees as part of the construction for Taipei Dome (臺北大巨蛋).