Kinmen, Penghu seen as natural haven for tourists - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

With a view to improving the economy of Taiwans offshore islands, many residents there are pushing for legislation that would allow them to build and run casinos through cooperation with large business groups. They claim that these casinos would attract more tourists, create employment opportunities, and thus revitalize the islands economy, which has taken a turn for the worse since most of the troops stationed there were transferred back to Taiwan at the end of the cold war between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. However, a number of residents have opposed the casino plan on grounds that it would lead to violent crimes and prostitution.

During an inspection tour of Kinmen on May 19, Premier Frank Hsieh (?ªø§Ê) said for the first time that his administration would take the necessary measures to help people residing on those islands realize their wishes, once they reach a consensus on the issue.

Some environmental activists, however, asked the government to reconsider its plan to allow the establishment of casinos on the islands that are known for their natural beauty and abundant historical and cultural relics.

"Allowing casinos to operate on these islands is not a panacea for revitalizing their economy," said Wu Tung-chieh, executive director of the Green Front Line.

"These islands are known for their abundant natural and historical resources, and they can attract many tourists if they develop a different marketing strategy," Wu said.

In Penghu, for instance, there is a geographic park that has the potential to be listed by the United Nations as a world heritage site. Kinmens rich cultural and historical heritage stems from the fact that it was once a major transit point for Chinese emigrants to Taiwan and a military stronghold for Taiwan to defend against a possible invasion by China in the wake of the communist takeover in 1949.

Many tourists go to Kinmen to watch birds and to enjoy the tranquility and the fresh air there, but chances are that this type of visitor would be turned off by streams of gamblers on the islands streets and in its hotels.

Wu said gambling usually brings violence, prostitution, drugs, and organized crime to cities where it is allowed, according to statistics released by other countries.

Wu noted that according to a research report by the University of Illinois, local governments end up paying US$3 in social welfare for every dollar they collect in gambling taxes. The rising deficits of the governments of Las Vegas and Atlantic City attest to this fact, he said, adding that the two cities are known for their high crime rates, divorces, school dropouts, juvenile delinquencies, and child abuses.

Wu urged the Taiwan government to at the problems that may arise as a result of the legalization of gambling, saying that any decision should not comply with the demand of some people at the sacrifice of the happiness of other people and their children.

Wu said some civic bodies, including the R.O.C. Wildness Association, the Kinmen Bird Lovers Association, have launched a campaign to oppose the governments plan to allow casinos on Kinmen, Matsu, and other islands.

Chen Wei-chien, a member of the Alliance of Kinmen Compatriots, said most of the well-known casino cities around the world, such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, were built in deserts or places where there are no natural and other resources. He said he did not understand why the government had ever considered building Kinmen into a city like Macao or Reno.

The grassroots construction, transportation networks, and waters resources on the offshore islands are not enough to support the operations of even a few large casinos, Chen said, adding that living conditions on the islands may also deteriorate because of air and water pollution caused by the casinos.

Chen said Kinmen has attracted many tourists fond of watching birds and historical relics, but these visitors may not come again if Kinmen becomes a concrete forest of gambling establishments.

Residents of Kinmen are not good at expressing their opinions, and few of them have come out to oppose the governments plan to allow businessmen to build casinos in their hometown, Chen said. However, these residents can be educated to understand what will be in their best interest in the long run, he added.

Chen said his alliance will hold a series of forums starting in August to make children and their parents more aware of the beauty of their hometown, and to advise on what they can do to protect their areas from being polluted by gambling, greed, and the like.

Chen said he did not understand why some people cited Macao and Las Vegas as examples to justify the plan to build Kinmen or Penghu into a city of casinos. "The people of Taiwan have their own destiny, and they dont have to copy the lives of other people who are not necessarily better in many aspects," Chen said.

Chen said some fishermen in Penghu complained that they could not go fishing in the winter because of the high waves. "The way I see it from an ecological point of view, they should take a rest in the winter for next years harvest."

Instead of allowing businessmen to run casinos, the government should consider setting up a marine life research center and use this center to attract tourists who wish to learn more about marine life around Taiwan, Chen suggested.

Whether Penghu could attract more tourists depends on its marketing of its tourist attractions and natural beauty, Chen said. Building casinos is definitely not the best way to increase employment opportunities for the people there, he added.

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