Asia Cement boss protests petition to shut down Taroko mine

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The chairman of Asia Cement Corp.’s parent firm has fumed against an online petition after the death of environmentalist filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) galvanized opposition to a mine near Taroko National Park.

Following Chi’s death in a helicopter crash Saturday, his most recent aerial photography of the mine in Hualien County went viral. Chi had said the ashen mountaintops captured in his first documentary, filmed five years earlier, had visibly deepened.

An online petition urging the government to strip Asia Cement of its rights to the mine had collected around 40,000 signatures before Chi’s death Saturday. Since then, the number has exploded to over 100,000, according to the petition’s organizer, environmental group Citizen of the Earth.

“I think (the Taroko mine) is ugly too, but we also have to think about whether we want public infrastructure and a domestic cement industry to support that,” Douglas Hsu (徐旭東), chairman of Asia Cement’s parent company Far Eastern Group (遠東集團), said during a shareholders meeting.

“If we don’t want homegrown cement producers, are we going to rely on imported cement from now on? Imported cement would mean a significantly higher cost for each ton.”

Deepened Hole Can be Fish Pond: Asia Cement boss

Hsu said Asia Cement was encouraged by the government to invest in Eastern Taiwan, adding that the firm had always abided by the law.

“Can’t the public treat us more fairly and not only chase after one company like this? I love Taiwan very much as well. I wouldn’t want to mess it up … we decided to dig deeper because we didn’t want to expand the quarry — it’s a costlier path, but better for the environment.”

Hsu also suggested that the deepened hole on the mountaintop can be filled with water and used to grow fish in the future.

The Economic Affairs Ministry in March approved an extension of Asia Cement’s mining permit in Hualien’s Sincheng Township (新城) by 20 years, and allowed it to bypass an environmental impact assessment in the process.

In response to the petition, the ministry’s Bureau of Mines denied that Asia Cement’s quarry had expanded and said the area had actually become greener through remediation in the past five years.

Chi was best known for his 2013 award-winning documentary “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above.” The documentary helped expose major chipmaker ASE Group’s (日月光) rampant pollution of the Houjin River, and it was praised for awakening locals to the beauty of the island as well as the man-made environmental destruction of it over decades of rapid growth.