by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: lienyuan lee/WikiCommons/CC
THE SUPREME ADMINISTRATIVE COURT ruled against extending the mining rights of Asia Cement’s mine on Truku Indigenous land on Thursday, dismissing an appeal filed by Asia Cement. The decision has been seen by some as a victory in the struggle against the mine. The Hualien city council had previously levied an ore tax of 70 NT per metric ton on the mine and rejected the extension. A lower court had previously also found Asia Cement’s actions to be in violation of the Indigenous Basic Law.
Asia Cement has maintained a mine on Truku Indigenous land in Hualien since 1973. The mine disrupts the lives of Truku residents living there, with large portions of the mountain hollowed out and loud explosions taking place daily. Indigenous were also driven off of their land for the mine to be built.
For its part, Asia Cement claims that it has compensated indigenous duly for the right to use their land and cited the fact that half of its workers are Indigenous. Although Asia Cement has claimed that it has reduced the scale of its mine in past years, the mine originally extended 25 hectares into Taroko Gorge.
Past years have seen demonstrations against the Asia Cement mine by Indigenous activists, drawing thousands. A June 2017 demonstration was attended by 2,500 people and a number of celebrities spoke up about the issue during the Golden Melody awards that year. Protests took place in 2017 because of plans by the Ministry of Economic Affairs to extend the license for the mine until 2037.
Particularly controversial was the fact that the Asia Cement mining license was renewed without an Environmental Impact Assessment. This was justified on the basis of the fact that the mining permit predates the 1992 Environmental Impact Assessment Act, the mine having been in operation for 64 years. Nevertheless, one notes that the 1930 Mining Act predates modern awareness of environmental damage caused by mining. The mine also predates the Taroko Gorge national park, which was declared a national park in 1986. Some of the land for the mine was originally seized during the Japanese colonial period and there has been some doubt cast about the legitimacy of documentation with which Asia Cement justified use of the land, seeing as this took place during the authoritarian period and could have involved coercion.
There was greater awareness of the damage caused by the mine after director Chi Po-lin’s documentary, Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above, which shocked the public with aerial images of the cement mine showing the hollowing out of the mountain. Shortly before Chi’s death in a helicopter crash, footage taken by him showed that Asia Cement had in fact expanded the scale of their operations while claiming to decrease their scale.
The issue of the mine proved controversial in the DPP, bringing progressive legislator Lin Shu-fen in conflict with fellow DPP legislator Kuan Bi-ling and Chiu Yi-ying, as well as deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua. The DPP likely has its eyes on maintaining cement production in Taiwan, with over 80% of cement production taking place in eastern Taiwan, and the Hualien site comprising 29% of cement production in Taiwan.
The legal case filed against Asia Cement lasted over fifteen years without firm resolution, including past attempts by the government to pass off a false resolution to the issue, low settlement payouts to affected residents of the area even in cases of deaths caused by accidents from the mine, and pollution to the drinking water of local residents. As Truku residents sought the return of their land, the issue was also shunted between the local, county, and central government.
Though the decision of the Hualien county government is viewed as marking significant progress on the issue, as the first case in which issues of Indigenous land appropriation were resolved through dialogue with Indigenous residents. At the same time, this is likely to be resisted by Asia Cement. Asia Cement has cited Article 13 of the Mining Act, which states that companies in the process of applying for an extension of their mining rights can continue to mine during this time. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has backed Asia Cement’s stance on the matter. As such, Asia Cement has stated that it will continue mining and that its operations will not be affected by the ruling. The struggle against the cement mine is likely to continue.