Wed, May 14, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Taipei offers aid, awaits the go-ahead from Beijing

HELPING HANDSaying foreign aid had been the key to recovering from the 1999 earthquake, President Chen Shui-bian pledged Taiwan's support for relief efforts

By Mo Yan-chih,Ko Shu-ling and Shih Hsiu-Chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS, WITH DPA

Taiwanese officials yesterday offered to provide "all the help needed" to China's earthquake-stricken region.

Urging the public to contribute donations toward the relief and reconstruction efforts, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁 yesterday instructed the Executive Yuan to integrate public and private resources to offer humanitarian relief to Sichuan Province.

"As a member of the international community, we would like to join the international relief effort and offer a helping hand," he said in a statement issued by the Presidential Office.

Chen said contributions from the international community had been the key to Taiwan's speedy recovery from the Sept. 21, 1999, earthquake in central Taiwan.

As the earthquake in China was more severe than the one which struck Taiwan in 1999, Chen said the nation would be more than willing to join the relief and reconstruction efforts.

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄 said the government would "provide all necessary resources" to help the Chinese government with relief work.

Chang said he had asked the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) to convey his words to its counterpart in China, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).

The SEF and ARATS are semi-official agencies that handle relations between Taiwan and China in the absence of formal ties.

Chang said the aid might include sending rescue teams, emergency rations, medical assistance and donations, but added that the details needed to be worked out by the SEF and ARATS.

"We will not act on our own and will respect the Chinese government's decisions," he said.

He also called on the Chinese government to provide assistance to Taiwanese businesspeople, students and tourists in need of help after the earthquake.

Mainland Council Affairs Chairman Chen Ming-tong (陳明通 said yesterday afternoon that China had not yet accepted Taiwan's offer.

"We have contacted ARATS twice and they told us they would notify us if they needed our help," Chen Ming-tong said. "We will maintain frequent contact with ARATS on the latest updates."

Taiwan's National Search and Rescue Team was standing ready to fly to China as soon as the government gives the go-ahead, but officials seemed to be waiting for China to make the request to Taiwan before dispatching the rescue team.

According to international conventions, foreign countries cannot dispatch search and rescue teams to a country unless that country requests help from the international community.

Meanwhile, president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九 visited the Red Cross Society yesterday to discuss the possibility of sending Taiwanese rescue workers to the disaster area.

Ma donated NT$200,000 to the organization and urged the public to join him in making donations to the victims of the earthquake.

Ma said Taiwan should send goods and medical aid to places near the disaster area via "humane charter flights," but added that such a plan would require negotiations with China before being implemented.

He said Taiwanese patients had previously been sent back to Taiwan on charter flights, and he believed that China would agree to using a similar channel if the Red Cross took charge of the rescue efforts.

C.V. Chen (陳長文, the president of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China, said the organization had donated US$300,000 to relief work, and China Airlines (中華航空) had promised to provide one cargo airplane to help with rescue operations.

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