Thursday, August 20, 2009

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has been caught flat-footed after Typhoon Morakot hit the island 13 days ago.

So far 141 people are dead, and there are estimates that up to 500 people are missing.

There are numerous calls for Ma to resign but he has so far refused. Yesterday two senior officials, the defense minister and cabinet chief offered to resign over the government's slow response to rescue and recovery work.

The typhoon caused landslides and flooding which stranded thousands of people in mountain villages for days.

While Ma has apologized deeply several times, many Taiwanese feel he hasn't done enough -- fast enough.

He blames it on the military not being trained in disaster prevention and rescue. For the past 60 years, Taiwan has been focused on defending itself from a possible attack and invasion from the mainland, that the military was unprepared, Ma said. He pledged they would be given the necessary training in the future and more resources would be poured into disaster and rescue work.

While Taiwan has received millions of dollars in donations, there is the tricky political situation for countries keen to help Taiwan but not make it seem like a political statement to China.

And in the last few years Taiwan has been losing out in the diplomatic front. It used to do a lot of "cheque-book diplomacy" -- doling out money to countries in return for political recognition, but lately China has whipped out an even bigger cheque book with fewer conditions attached.

As a result, the US sent over aid in an unmarked helicopter from Japan in a low-key mission, as the US has recognized the One-China policy.

However, the even more delicate line Ma has to tread is aid from the mainland. So far China has given 176 million yuan ($26 million) and 25 million yuan in relief aid.

While China is keen to help out more with relief and recovery work, Taiwan is hesitant. For some the thought of People's Liberation Army soldiers on the island's soil is frightening and could mis-communicate intentions.

This puts Ma in a tricky spot, who, though spearheading warmer relations with China than ever before, must keep in mind his constituents are not that keen in being too cozy with the mainland.

While China will always be "the motherland", the Taiwanese aren't exactly eager to embrace all aid from the mainland. Even when lives are at stake.

1 comment:

ks said...

it is unreasonable for the typhoon victims to make such unrealistic expectations and demands on the president and government of taiwan. they are only human beings, not superman or god. there is just so much they can do under these trying circumstances.