The Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) on Friday received a fax from its China counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), that offering medical equipment to Taiwan to help it control the spread of SARS.
Although the move seems to be a friendly gesture toward Taiwan, political observers said it was a wolf in sheep's clothing just days after Taipei was refused recognition by the World Health Organization (WHO).
"That China has chosen this time to make this gesture to Taiwan is merely to help it justify its lies to the World Health Assembly (WHA)," said Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒), a political observer and editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.
Chin was referring to a claim made by Chinese Vice Premier and Minister of Health Wu Yi (吳儀) at the health assembly last week in Geneva, during which Wu claimed that Beijing has been supervising Taiwan's control of the epidemic and that it had already sent 1,000 SARS kits to Taiwan.
Taiwan's bid to gain observer status at the WHA was rejected for a seventh time last Monday thanks to an unprecedented mobilization by Wu's team in Geneva of Beijing's allies against Taipei.
The SEF therefore has every reason to be cautious before finalizing its decision on whether to accept China's offer for help, Holmes Liao (廖宏祥), a research fellow in the Taiwan Research Institute's Division of Strategic and International Studies, said.
"The dilemma imposed upon the SEF is: if we accept the offer, we might fall into China's machination," Liao said.
"But if we decline the offer, Taiwan might bear the brunt of criticism from some pro-Beijing countries for not providing he necessary health care for its people," he said.
Liao argued that it is Taiwan that ends up wrongly being accused of politicizing the issue, but that it is "China's gesture to offer the medical equipment that is the ill-intentioned political maneuver," Liao said.
"The offer from China does not really help Taiwan. It merely creates a headache for Taiwan," he said.
And the offer for "help," is undoubtedly generous. It includes 200,000 sets of protection clothing -- double the number of suits donated by Singapore last week, 100,000 surgical masks and five ambulances equipped with negative-pressure ventilation systems. ARATS in Friday's fax even expressed China's willingness to send a group of medical personnel to Taiwan to help fight the disease.
SEF, the quasi-official intermediary body authorized by the government to handle diplomatic affairs with China in the absence of official ties, has yet to decide whether to accept Beijing's offer.
Liang Yu-chen (梁玉珍), the SEF's press coordinator said that foundation would make its decision after consulting with Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's highest government agency in charged of China-related affairs.
Council Vice Chairman Chen Ming-tong (
China's preceding claim that it has provided assistance to Taiwan had been dismissed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as "a shameless lie" and Wu's similar claim made during the WHA had also been refuted by the five-member delegation of KMT and DPP lawmakers which traveled to Geneva last week to lobby for the bid.