Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Politics shouldn't mix with aid pledges

By Song Yann-huei宋燕輝

To help relieve tsunami-devastated South Asian countries, countries around the world have one after another increased the amount of money they have pledged in aid. The US has now committed US$350 million, up from the US$15 million it originally pledged. Japan also raised its aid from US$30 million to US$500 million, making it the top donor country.

Taiwan didn't lag behind, and upped its pledge from US$5 million to US$50 million. I am sure that the people of Taiwan are delighted with and support the government's decision. In fact, many local social groups and schools have already taken the initiative to appeal for private donations for tsunami relief.

When the government decided to increase disaster-relief funding, the reasons were: the hope that Taiwan could be included in the list of top 10 donor nations, to increase Taiwan's visibility in the international community, and at the same time increase other countries' willingness to support Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization (WHO).

Too much emphasis on political motivation of donations at the expense of stating the importance of compassion and the severity of disaster may make people (especially in recipient countries) consider the donations conditional on political benefits.

As a result, the compassion felt by 23 million Taiwanese people may be tainted with hypocrisy.

Whether it is "the Republic of China (ROC)," "ROC, Taiwan," "Taiwan, ROC," "China Taipei," " Chinese Taipei," "Taiwan," or "the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu," our country is an "abnormal" and "unique" nation that has been degraded, discriminated against and ignored.

As a result, no wonder Taiwan must defend itself in a diplomatic setting by constantly considering mutual-benefit exchanges and feedback from the international community to seek recognition or other political advantage.

But is this emphasis on political incentives and purposes in public announcements or in international media when extending political, economic or emergency aid to others beneficial? This is a question that our government should consider.

A few years ago when the government promoted the second phase of the "go south" policy (南向政策), many Southeast Asian representatives in Taiwan were anxious to inquire whether the government's real purpose was to strengthen the economic development of Southeast Asian nations or intended to shift Taiwan's economic dependency away from China.

Once, when Taiwan contributed funding to the second-track (or non-governmental) regional security cooperation forum, an Indonesian diplomat advised Taiwan that its insistence on linking this funding with diplomatic conditions was not the best means of attaining its ends.

Take Taiwan's 2003 SARS outbreak as an example. Excessively manipulating the situation for political gain only had a negative impact on Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Taiwan's donations for tsunami relief spring from the highest moral motives, and demonstrate the government's diplomatic commitment to actively promote human rights and humanitarian aid. But good policies and intentions are only be undermined by politicized explanations.

Although all countries have their own foreign-policy considerations when providing international disaster relief or humanitarian aid, it is important to "do more and talk less," and especially to refrain from emphasizing supplementary conditions in public announcements.

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