Taiwan yesterday maintained a tight lid on the issue of possible debt reduction or cancelation for Haiti, repeating its statement that the government was committed to doing all it could to help its quake-ravaged ally.
However, a source familiar with Taiwan's diplomatic affairs said the government had to carefully consider the issue because it could trigger a domino effect in which Taiwan's 22 other allies might make the same demands.
The Paris Club, the UK and, most recently, Canada have openly called for two of Haiti's biggest creditors — Taiwan and Venezuela — to pardon the debt the Caribbean nation owes. Haiti reportedly owes Taiwan US$91 million.
Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said international lenders should expunge the debt so as not to encumber Haiti in its reconstruction effort.
The Associated Press reported that Flaherty singled out Taiwan and Venezuela and urged them to “complete their own debt relief efforts as soon as possible.”
The source said several of Taiwan's allies — all developing countries as defined by the UN — have asked for the same favor in the past but Taipei has not acceded to their request. For instance, during President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九), inauguration in May 2008, the top envoys from Gambia, Guatemala and El Salvador all asked the new government to pardon their debt. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the time that had not legal basis for forgiving or canceling debt.
“Reducing or canceling Haiti's debt could encourage other allies to ask for the same courtesy. Of course the government can simply refuse their request by saying Haiti is an exception because of extraordinarily strenuous circumstances,” the source said, adding that because of a “diplomatic truce”— a ceasefire with Beijing on the diplomatic front — Taiwan does not have to be bound to every request made by its allies.
Asked about the matter yesterday, ministry spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said Taiwan had offered immediate aid, including US$5 million in cash, to Haiti.
In cooperation with Mercy Corps, Taiwan also helped set up a Humanitarian Cooperation Fund in Port-au-Prince under which approximately 500 local residents can receive donations in lieu of pay by participating in the clean-up effort.
Taiwan also helped establish 10 Community Tool Banks to allow local residents to borrow equipment as needed, the ministry said.