Media myth lives on
Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the 921 Earthquake of 1999. Members of rescue teams who came to Taiwan’s aid after the quake have been invited to attend a series of commemorative events this week.
On Sept. 25, 1999, four days after the earthquake, the Taipei Times ran an article entitled “Taipei accuses China of exploiting quake.” The newspaper followed the government and Chinese-language media in reporting “a Russian earthquake relief mission en route to Taiwan was forced to make a lengthy detour over Siberia because China refused to allow the Russian plane carrying the team to pass through its airspace.”
On April 1 this year, the Taipei Times reported that “a group of Russian search and rescue workers that helped local teams during the 921 Earthquake in 1999 will come to Taiwan this September to take part in an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the quake ... At the time, Russia dispatched a group of 83 professional search-and-rescue personnel to help in the search for survivors. Because of China’s refusal to allow Russian planes to fly through its airspace, the help was delayed for 12 hours.”
I must point out that this accusation, though widely believed by people in Taiwan, is untrue.
When the accusation first appeared in the media, I felt doubtful for three reasons. First, different media disagreed widely about the length of the delay. Second, according to my understanding of relations between Russia, China and Taiwan, I thought it unlikely that China would refuse such a request. Third, the source of the report was said to be a Russian-language newspaper Segodnya (Today). I found this odd because it is very rare for Taiwanese media to report stories from the Russian media, especially when the original article is in Russian.
Out of curiosity, I visited the Russian trade office on Xinyi Road to ask whether the reports were true. The Russian trade representative and other staff said they had not heard of it.
The Russian representative said: “Not everything you read in the newspapers is always true.”
He explained that he had played a key role in facilitating the rescue mission. He assured me that the Russian team had never requested to fly through Chinese air space, since the quickest and most efficient way for them to come here was to follow their established domestic route from Moscow to the Russian Far East, and from there across the sea to Taiwan.
He said the route from Russia to Taiwan was registered with international aviation authorities, although it was not in commercial use. It had only been used once before, for a private flight to Taiwan by Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (who visited Taiwan from Oct. 18 to Oct. 22, 1998.)
The trade representative said China could not have refused permission for the Russian plane to fly over China, because the Russians never made any such request.
Following those reports in 1999, however, Taiwanese politicians, including then foreign minister Jason Hu (胡志強) and then Taoyuan County commissioner Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), publicly condemned China for its supposed callousness in delaying the Russian rescue mission,.
The incident was cited as a pretext for refusing material aid, such as tents, prefabricated houses and so on, from China, and turning down Beijing’s offer to send a medical team, although a cash donation from China was accepted. Incidentally, Taiwan also refused aid offered by the Philippines.
After leaving the Russian trade office, I told what I had heard to Time magazine’s Taiwan correspondent Donald Shapiro, and called in to Li Ao’s (李敖) television call-in program and another call-in program on radio.
On Oct. 1, 1999, Taiwan’s representative office in Moscow invited members of the rescue team, who had just returned to Russia, to dinner.
Arkady Borisov, Moscow correspondent of the China Times, asked the rescue team whether it was true that they had been refused passage through Chinese airspace. Team leader Vladimir Boreiko replied that it was not true, and proceeded to give the same account that the Russian representative in Taipei gave to me. This report appeared in the China Times on Oct. 3, 1999, and is still available online.
These are the facts of the matter as far as I know. Anyone who is still in doubt will have a chance to ask the Russian rescue team members during their visit to Taiwan this week.
When Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping (習近平) wakes up one morning and decides that his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can win a war to conquer Taiwan, that is when his war will begin. To ensure that Xi never gains that confidence it is now necessary for the United States to shed any notions of “forbearance” in arms sales to Taiwan. Largely because they could guarantee military superiority on the Taiwan Strait, US administrations from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama practiced “forbearance” — pre-emptive limitation of arms sales to Taiwan — in hopes of gaining diplomatic leverage with Beijing. President Ronald
Communist China’s Global Times warned US President Joe Biden in the first week of this month that he “should make a significant response to China’s sincerity within his first 100 days, as the sincerity and patience will not last forever.” In fact, they lasted only days. By the end of the week, Beijing had laid down the law, so to speak, to the Biden administration. First was a speech billed as a “Dialogue with National Committee on US-China Relations,” by Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪), director of China’s Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs. Yang said he was pleased “to have
The Canadian parliament on Monday passed a motion saying that China’s human rights abuses against the country’s Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang constitute “genocide.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far avoided using the word genocide in regard to Xinjiang, but if he did, it would begin to generate solidarity among G7 nations on the issue — which is something Trudeau has called for. Former US president Donald Trump used the word genocide regarding Xinjiang before leaving office last month, and members of US President Joe Biden’s administration have been pushing for him to make the same declaration, a Reuters report
Three years ago, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) raised quite a few eyebrows when she proposed abolishing Taiwan’s zhuyin fuhao (注音符號, Mandarin phonetic symbols commonly known as “Bopomofo”) system in her bid to become Tainan mayor. Yeh did not make it onto the ballot, and it was not clear how she would have begun to implement such a gargantuan change locally. Not only is Bopomofo learned by all schoolchildren in Taiwan, it is the most popular system for typing Chinese in the nation, despite being considered one of the least efficient input methods. Bopomofo has also become