A US China expert is urging Taiwan to be more effective in assisting with international disaster relief, despite objections from Beijing.
Senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Bonnie Glaser told a Washington conference that some nations fear “punitive actions” that China might take against them if they allow Taiwan to provide disaster assistance.
Citing examples of China’s “interference,” she said that in 2004, when Indonesia was hit by a tsunami, Taiwan had to paint over the identifying insignia on the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft it sent with relief supplies. As a result of Chinese objections, the plane had to land in Singapore and was not permitted to land in Indonesia.
In a lesser-known example, Glaser said that Malaysia requested Taiwan’s assistance when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared last year. Taiwan dispatched a C-130 Hercules transport plane and a coast guard vessel, but China insisted that both be sent back.
Beijing demanded that Malaysia withdraw its request, deny refueling or port access to any of the assets that Taiwan dispatched and that, in any mention of the passenger lists, Taiwanese nationals be referred to as Chinese rather than Taiwanese.
In another example, after the earthquake in Nepal earlier this year, Taiwan wrote a US$300,000 disaster relief check, but the check had to be delivered to the Nepalese embassy in Delhi because Nepal would not accept the money in Nepal.
“This was probably due to fear of a Chinese response rather than China telling Kathmandu: ‘You cannot do this,’” Glaser told the conference on expanding Taiwan’s international role held on Thursday last week at George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies.
Nevertheless, she said there was more that Taiwan could do.
China objects when Taiwan tries to become involved with international organizations that are structured to deal only with sovereign nations, but Glaser said some international organizations have charters that are “vague” on this point.
She said that Taiwan might be able to participate in the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Glaser said that when charters were vague on sovereignty, there is more opportunity and China becomes “less obsessed with blocking Taiwan.”
She said Taiwan had a national center for training firefighters that had already trained first responders from Korea and the Philippines.
“This is an example of how Taiwan can bring in people from the region, develop networks and find ways to work with other countries through training,” Glaser said.
She added that Taiwan needed to develop “niche capabilities” that were easily deployed abroad.
“They have not really developed a logistically mobile unit that can be taken to other countries,” Glaser said, adding that Taiwan needed to be more “agile” to make its delivery of equipment more effective.
“What Taiwan needs to do is have the capabilities that will cause other countries to reach out to them and want Taiwan to be part of their disaster relief assistance,” she said.
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