Sun, Jan 17, 2010 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE : Pundits not satisfied with government aid to Haiti

By Jenny W. hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti is a crucial factor in determining its diplomatic strength, some observers said yesterday, urging the government to show the same level of concern as it did for China during the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008.

Three days after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Chinese province on May 12, 2008, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration announced a financial package of US$60 million.

Public servants were requested to donate a day’s salary to the relief effort, and Taiwan’s rescuers were among the first international teams to reach China.

Local charity groups mobilized fundraising efforts and unprecedented donations totaling in the billions of dollars flooded in from the corporate world.

The entertainment industry banded together to collect money, producing the song Heart that Can’t be Shattered in a show of sympathy and support. Stars such as Jolin Tsai (蔡依林) and Mayday (五月天), along with then-president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his wife Chou Mei-ching (周美青) answered phones at a charity telethon.

Taiwan also responded to the catastrophe that struck a number of countries in late December 2004, when an earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The government donated US$50 million in aid.

None of the countries affected by the tsunami had diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Haiti and Taiwan have been allies for 53 years. The death toll after Tuesday’s 7.0 temblor may be as high as 200,000 according to some estimates.

Three days after the earthquake — the same period of time the former government took to announce a US$60 million aid package to China — the Ma administration pledged US$5 million in cash as well as supplies including rice, drinking water and camping gear.

No request of one day’s salary has been made to public servants.

There have been no announcements yet of donations by the corporate world, nor has the entertainment sector used its star power to raise funds. The first lady has not publicly commented on the tragedy.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not held a press conference on the issue. Statements from the ministry have been released in response to media inquiries or as press releases.

While some observers warned that the stark contrast in the government’s response could end up hurting Taiwan’s diplomatic future, others said it could be an opportunity for Taiwan to showcase its commitment to human rights and foreign aid.

National Chengchi University political science professor Yen Chen-shen (嚴震生) said the government’s pledge was “absolutely not enough” and Taiwan should up its donation once the Haitian government is functioning better.

“The situation is extremely messy and convoluted right now — almost in a state of anarchy. It is wise to wait until the social unrest settles down before we offer more money and discuss long-term rebuilding efforts” he said.

Yan said that since the Ma administration had declared a “diplomatic truce” — a call for a ceasefire with China on the diplomatic front — Taiwan now feels secure in its ties with its allies.

But that does not mean Taiwan can “take its friends for granted,” he said, adding that Taiwan should step up efforts to help its allies, especially as the nation no longer needs to engage in a money war with China to compete for recognition.

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