China-Taiwan tensions have subsided to such an extent in recent years that the biggest threat to Taiwan’s defences these days is from pushy mainland tourists armed with wide-angle lenses. This could change, however, if Taiwan moves ahead with legislation that will allow casinos to be built on its Taiwan Strait island chains: Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu. Fearful of competition for Macau, the Chinese government has vowed to bar mainland tourists from gambling on the islands if a casino is built.
This would be a blow to the tourism industries on the once heavily militarised Kinmen and Matsu archipelagos, located just off the coast of China’s Fujian province. The removal of 100,000 landmines has cleared the way for mainland tourists to visit the military installations built to ward off a People’s Liberation Army invasion. Several ferry links connect the islands with the mainland, the latest of which opened in December between Matsu and Huangqi in Fujian province, a swift 30-minute voyage.
Tourism has brought economic benefits to the islands but some residents think more can be done. “Most people from China stay one night and then go back,” says Kai Hsieh, the recreation section chief for the Mastu National Scenic Area Administration. “If you don’t stay, you don’t spend money.” One solution: build casinos to lure Chinese gamblers for extended stays.
Matsu voters were first to roll the dice, approving a referendum to allow gambling in 2012 that brought promises of a multibillion dollar investment by Weidner Resorts. Faced with Beijing’s irate response, however, the Taiwan legislature has yet to pass a bill regulating the casino industry and Weidner quietly closed its Matsu office last year. “I personally believe that threats from the mainland influenced the local authorities and communities,” says Hsieh.
This hasn’t stopped the other islands. Casino proponents on Penghu are hoping to hold their own referendum as early as this summer.
Date: 29 June
Candidates: Prime minister and former TV reporter Chimed Saikhanbileg of the Democratic party is again looking to lead the nation. His chief opponents are the Mongolian People’s party.
Issues: Shortly after he took office, Saikhanbileg held a text-message poll to ask Mongolians whether they favoured austerity or government investment in mining. Most chose the latter but the global collapse of commodity prices has been a brutal reminder that natural resources aren’t enough.
Monocle comment: It’s not easy negotiating with multi-national mining companies with market capitalisations bigger than your own economy.
Now that Japan’s voting age has dropped from 20 to 18 there will be an extra 2.4 million people voting in July’s Upper House election. “It’s good that our youth is being recognised but the political impact remains unknown,” says Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Japanese in their twenties vote less often than older citizens so it remains to be seen if new voters will be more diligent – but the media will pay more attention this year so people will hear their concerns.” However, the newly enfranchised are still too young to stand for election: candidates must be 25 for the Lower House and 30 for the Upper House.
Q&A - Nicholas Brooke
Chair of the Harbourfront Commission, Hong Kong
The Harbourfront Commission is advising the Hong Kong government on how to create a world-class harbourfront. Its proposal to invest about hk$11bn (€1.26bn) has been endorsed by the chief executive and is awaiting legislation to begin construction.
What’s the motivation for this proposal?
If Hong Kong wants to remain relevant and attractive there’s a whole range of quality-of-life issues that the city has to address. A lot of people are talking about creating a smart city but “smart” is just a part of enhancing quality of life. We need more sustainability, resilience and fun.
Does Hong Kong need another authority?
Harbour development should be a less controversial way of bringing Hong Kong communities back together. Despite the ongoing political setbacks in this city, people from all walks of life agree on the importance of the waterfront. But officials are accustomed to working within their own departments – we need to cut across this and work as one team.
What barriers do you have to overcome?
We have looked at more than 30 waterfronts worldwide and all the successful cases involve public and private partnerships. If we are to be creative then we need to embrace working with business, which is why we suggested long private sector leases in our proposal to the government.