From the onset of Russia’s war in Ukraine, more than 3.3 million Ukrainians have fled their homes to escape the fighting.
The ongoing exodus has triggered a wave of refugee crises, perhaps outstripping any such movements seen since World War II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.
At the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan was quick to condemn the war, announced economic sanctions against Russia and expressed admiration for Ukrainians for defying coercive power, resisting aggression and defending their country.
Taiwan has further lent a helping hand to Ukraine. All walks of life in Taiwan, from the government to business organizations, advocacy groups and members of the public, are stepping up coordinated efforts to support Ukrainians fleeing their homeland.
Political officials from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vowed to donate one month’s salary to contribute to a special donation account set up by the Disaster Relief Foundation and the Taiwan Red Cross to help Ukrainian refugees.
As of Monday, the account designated by the government had received NT$743 million (US$26 million), while donations from a crowdfunding platform reached a total of NT$156.36 million. All donations from the public would be given to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Lithuania to help Ukrainian refugees.
Concrete efforts also include donations of money, medical supplies and a wide variety of daily necessities. More than 20,000 boxes of supplies are scheduled to be sent to the Polish Strategic Reserves Agency, and other agencies in Ukraine’s neighboring countries where refugees are seeking security and shelter.
Even ordinary Taiwanese, who do not pay much attention to international politics, have been willing to donate and join volunteer groups to help pack the products while heeding the worrisome situation in eastern Europe, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a global uproar and raised the urgent issue of helping refugees.
In general, Taiwanese have sympathy for Ukrainians, who are victims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruthless war and are in urgent need of assistance, especially shelter, medical care and resettlement.
Indeed, Taiwan’s donation of food, money and necessities to Ukrainian refugees tell pundits a moving story about how a middle power like Taiwan has been determined to stretch its hands to its democratic fellow.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said the courage and determination of Ukrainian people have touched Taiwanese, and Ukraine’s fight against Russia has been “an inspiration to Taiwanese facing threats and coercion from authoritarian power.”
Diplomatic support and donations for Ukrainian refugees have been in line with Taiwan’s commitment to stand strong with democratic countries against intimidation from authoritarian regimes.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) underlined the importance of supporting Ukraine by saying: “We are also moved by the determination of the Ukrainian people to defend their country and democratic way of life. We are united in support of our shared values.”
With donations to Ukrainian refugees, Taiwan has continued to highlight the spirit of “Taiwan can help” in its foreign policy, especially in times of crises.
Under that slogan, Taiwan donated surgical masks to countries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan also provided medical supplies and technologies, and shared hands-on experiences with countries worldwide to help them fight COVID-19.
In the past few years, “Taiwan can help” has become the motto of the nation’s responsible diplomacy.
The campaign launched to collect humanitarian supplies is the portrayal of this spirit, and in garnering donations, Taiwan hopes to deliver emergency supplies to Ukrainian refugees in need.
However, the logic of Taiwan’s support for Ukrainian refugees also lies in the inspiration that Taiwanese gain when helping Ukraine.
When facing coercion exerted by an authoritarian neighbor, Ukrainians stood unwavering against Russia’s intimidation.
Ukrainians’ courage has inspired the patriotism of Taiwanese.
By assisting Ukrainian refugees, Taiwanese have shown their determination to support and adhere to democracy and freedom.
Through their donations, Taiwanese showed warming support for Ukrainian refugees, implying a condemnation of Putin’s atrocities.
Taiwanese fully understand that if Taiwan were to neglect the war in Ukraine, the international community might not come to its aid if the same happens to Taiwan.
In essence, Taipei and Kyiv are under direct challenges of irredentist nationalism used by leaders from Beijing and Moscow to invoke nationalistic sentiments among their citizens.
Taiwanese understand Ukraine’s geopolitical situation comprehensively, as their nation has been continually intimidated by China, whose ambition to annex Taiwan has been notorious among the international community. While Ukraine is fighting against Russia’s domination, Taiwan faces the threat of invasion by China.
As the exodus of vulnerable Ukrainian civilians continues to accelerate, Taiwan stays committed to continuing its support for the like-minded country.
The term “like-minded” has become widely used as democratic countries have been challenged by authoritarian states, which have sought to “consolidate power and accelerate their attacks on democracy and human rights,” Freedom House wrote in the Freedom in the World 2022: The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule report.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs underscored its commitment to furthering its humanitarian assistance for Ukrainian refugees saying: “The Russia-Ukraine war is still in stalemate, and Taiwan’s assistance for Ukraine is uninterrupted.”
This commitment should be noted as Taiwan and Ukraine do not have close economic ties, or representative offices.
As humanitarian support has no border, Taiwan’s assistance for Ukrainian refugees indicates that when civilians are in danger, Taiwan would be willing to offer sincere support, whether the country in danger has close ties with Taiwan or not.
Taiwan’s stance and actions are quite contrary to China, which has prioritized strategic convergence rather than common values, such as democracy, freedom, human rights and adherence to international law.
Ukraine has been considered a major participant and an active supporter of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, while China has emerged as the largest trading partner of Ukraine.
However, when it comes to Moscow’s invasion of the country, China has declined to call Putin’s war an “invasion,” stayed away from condemning Russia, and even remained reluctant to lead mediation between Kyiv and Moscow.
Taiwan’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “is being watched by many countries,” Taipei Representative Office in Poland Director Chen Longjin (陳龍錦) said.
Donations sent by Taiwan to Ukrainian refugees are part of efforts to demonstrate Taiwan’s determination to support Ukraine.
Under the Tsai administration, the unity of democracies is what Taiwan has aspired to. When democratic countries are more willing to work together against authoritarian regimes, the leaders in Beijing must consider this positive trend.
Huynh Tam Sang, a doctorate holder and international relations lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, is a research fellow at the Taiwan NextGen Foundation and a nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow at the Pacific Forum.
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