Wednesday, August 12, 2009

As expected ... Beijing allegedly pledges US$16m

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.


Thomas said...

I wonder what effect such a large pledge from Beijing will actually have on Ma's popularity.

The size of the figure could just as easily incite disdain due to the public's negative perception of how Ma has handled the crisis. Beijing's "warm" contribution makes Ma look even more like a one-trick pony. Then there is the possibility that an angry public may actually not give a hoot about the size of Beijing's contribution if it is focused more on Ma's ineptitude.

I would be really surprised if anyone who has been affected by the disaster and has a bone to pick with higher-ups took a pause to think, "Gee, those guys in Beijing sure are good to us in our hour of need!"

Άλισον said...

The "central" government is obviously tilted in favor of the north, so the devastation in the south part is not going to get enough "central" government's attention to deploy more troops in time for the rescue mission nor will it accept foreign assistance offered.

It's time for the hard-hit counties in the south to accept help directly from foreign sources, thereby by-pass the "central" government's discriminatory policy towards the south plus a hint of disrespect towards the "central" government's de-jure authority.

MikeinTaipei said...

Άλισον: I agree with you about the central government’s tilt northwards. However, as there are legal implications to foreign humanitarian assistance, donor countries cannot bypass the central government. Otherwise, it’d be a free for all and sudden violations of airspace and lack of coordination would only exacerbate problems. This is why (a) central governments must accept foreign aid, and (b) why the UN created agencies such as OCHA to coordinate relief efforts. Before OCHA was created, uncoordinated NGOs would often create a mess in countries needing help, or work inefficiently (overlap, etc). So, for better or worse, if foreign humanitarian assistance is allowed in Taiwan, it’ll have to go through the central governent.

Άλισον said...

After reading Mike in Taipei's comment, I sense that Ma refuses foreign aid because of a deeper political implication.

Without “central” government’s permission, any US / Japan helicopters will be treated as foreign invasion forces instead of humanitarian assistance forces and can be shot-down.

Since Beijing claims Taiwan to be its “yet-to-be-unified” territory, Ma’s acceptance for help from these 2 countries without Beijing’s approval may jeopardize further warming relations between the two sides of the strait (actually it’s between the KMT and the CCP parties).

Remember 10 years ago, during the 921 earth quake relief effort in 1999, China's Red Cross chapter asked other international chapters to "consult" with it before they decided to offer help to quake-stricken Taiwan thereby causing delay? And a Russian earthquake relief mission en route to Taiwan was forced to make a lengthy detour over Siberia because China refused to allow the Russian plane carrying the team to pass through its airspace? And The UN's Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva reportedly decided to send a six-member team to help with relief efforts only after close consultation with China. To make matters worse, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent his sympathies to the people of the "Taiwan province of China." (ref:Taipei Times Sep. 25, 1999 )

In the meantime, Ma sits tight refusing foreign physical help so as not to anger his hidden boss (It is clear now who is Ma serving, definitely not his people!) while waiting for the mud-buried villagers to race against time, fate, and the available domestic resources that Ma wants to deploy.

Paying taxes to the “central” government while watching relatives and friends perish without timely assistance, I think the people in the southern part realize now how much people’s lives worth in the eyes of the Ma administration. Clearly, Ma's greater China policy weighs more than their lives.

Except 10 years ago, using disaster crisis for political gain was played by the authority in Beijing, now it is being handled directly by Ma.