Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Kinmen burned bridges needlessly

By Chiang Bo-wei 江柏煒

As SARS spread across the country, the Kinmen County Govern-ment announced that starting May 19, anyone arriving from Taiwan be subjected to a "Level Two," or 10-day long, home quarantine. This action, which is tantamount to sealing off Kinmen, was supported by the County Council. The central government, however, did not agree, creating a stand-off between the local and central governments.

The county government felt that sealing off Kinmen was a case of legitimate self-protection, since the central government was unable to care for the outlying islands. There were local medical shortages, the one person who died from SARS in Kinmen came from Taipei and the Daily Air Corp was unwilling to transport SARS patients from Kinmen back to Taiwan.

The view of the central government, however, is that people shall be subjected to home quarantine if they enter the country from an infected area via an airport or harbor in a third country or via a harbor on the outlying islands. As stated in the law, this is not applicable to Kinmen, which is a part of Taiwan.

Clearly, the epidemic-prevention process has once again showed that executive authorities at different levels have their own ideas and are not in step with each other. It has also exposed the longstanding shortage of medical resources on the outlying islands.

From the sealing off of Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital until today, hospital transmission of SARS has already led to the death and illness of several medical workers and panic among the public, even though Taiwan has not seen community transmission such as occurred in Hong Kong.

All big hospitals have had an even harder time of it. Medical centers which normally boast ample resources have been hard hit, and are now almost incapable of helping the outlying islands, mountain areas or the countryside. In comparison, the Xiamen authorities showed their concern by taking the initiative to send 5,000 face masks to Kinmen (regardless of whether it was a show of true concern or a part of its unification strategy).

Kinmen residents really do feel neglected by Taipei, and add to this the longstanding differences in development and political identification, it is certainly not very difficult to understand why the suggestion to seal off the island was proposed. The Taiwan Strait seems to have become more than a physical gulf dividing the social community of Taiwan.

Over the past decade or longer, Kinmen and Matsu have always had an unclear status in the discourse on building a Tai-wanese community. They were not part of the territory ruled by Japan after 1895, but after 1949, they still became the frontline of the nation in the attempt to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.

They seem to be a stumbling block for the independence movement, but they have been a part of Taiwan's de facto sovereignty for over half a century. Long controlled by the military, little development, and insufficient public services have restricted the development of these two communities.

When family visits between China and Taiwan were first allowed, I therefore often heard people that had visited Xiamen complain, saying that "So maybe we can't compare with Taipei and Kaohsiung, but we are a long ways behind even Xiamen." However, the injustices committed against the second-class citizens on the outlying islands, baptized in artillery wars, cannot find their way onto Taiwan's mainstream political agenda and are given no attention.

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