Agence France-Presse reported late this evening that China had pledged US$16 million for relief efforts following the devastation brought by Typhoon Morakot. If true, the donation would dwarf pledges of US$250,000 and US$103,000 by the US and Japan respectively. According to AFP, China’s financial assistance would come via the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.
It is no small irony that a country that threatens to invade its neighbor, or to attack it with short- and mid-range missiles, would suddenly turn into a generous humanitarian donor. While money is certainly welcome, this is not the result of Chinese “warmth” — this is PR, and an effort to win hearts and minds in Taiwan by giving money. Wouldn’t it be nice if, rather than give when a catastrophe hits, China stopped threatening Taiwan, so that parts of the US$10 billion or so Taipei spends annually on the military to protect itself from China could be dedicated to, say, strengthening infrastructure. (To put things in perspective: A single DF-15 short-range ballistic missile, out of the about 1,400 DF-11s and DF-15s that China aims at Taiwan [excluding medium-range missiles], costs approximately US$450,000. In other words, China’s humanitarian pledge to Taiwan represents a mere 35 missiles. )
Additionally, while money and planning will be needed for reconstruction, the central government’s current emphasis on that phase, at a time when hundreds, if not thousands, of people are still stranded or missing, is just wrong. At this writing, a mere 8,500 soldiers have been deployed to conduct rescue operations, which isn’t enough, given the amplitude of the devastation. In the wake of a catastrophe, time and materiel are of the essence, which is why Premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) contention that Taiwan does not need non-financial assistance from countries that have offered it — Japan, the US — is myopic. When lives are at stake, transport aircraft from neighboring countries (e.g., US helicopters based in Guam or Okinawa) should be given precedence. Only once all lives have been accounted for, and health hazards addressed, should we turn to reconstruction. By turning priorities upside down, the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration is not only putting lives at risk, but it may also be attempting to detract attention from its less than stellar handling of the crisis.
When a house is burning, we should make sure everybody is out and safe before sitting down and discussing how to rebuild the roof or replace the furniture.