The Taiwanese government yesterday appealed for public donations for the relief efforts in Japan as Taipei increased its donation from US$300,000 to NT$100 million (US$3,382,000) in light of the increasing scale of the disaster caused by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.
“Taiwan has close relations with Japan, Japan is our important neighbor and there has been a close bond between the people of the two countries. The Japanese government and civil groups gave a helping hand to Taiwan at the time of the 921 Earthquake [in 1999] and August 8 Flood [in 2009] ... We hereby appeal to Taiwanese to donate to help those in Japan,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shen Ssu-tsun (沈斯淳) said at a press conference.
The 921 earthquake refers to a magnitude 7.3 quake that struck Taiwan on Sept. 21, 1999. The quake claimed 2,444 lives and injured 11,305, according to government statistics. More than 51,000 homes collapsed and 53,768 were severely damaged.
Asked about the situation of Taiwanese in Japan, Huang Ming-lung (黃明朗), secretary-general of the ministry’s East Asian Relations Commission, said: “No casualties nor injuries have been reported thus far, but we are still unable to reach several hundred Taiwanese compatriots and two students.”
According to the ministry, 39 Taiwanese tour groups totaling 1,066 people in Tokyo, a tour group of 16 people in Akita and another tour group of 30 in Sendai were all confirmed safe, but two academics surnamed Lee (李) and Hsieh (謝), who were in Sendai for an academic meeting, were unaccounted for at press time.
The ministry said that there were 653 Taiwanese compatriots and 50 students in the main disaster areas, adding that 115 resided in Fukushima where residents within a 20km radius of a nuclear power plant were told to evacuate their homes yesterday after radiation levels rose following a massive explosion at the power plant.
The ministry is keeping a close eye on the situation in Japan, particularly in its hardest-hit northeastern coastal regions, and would respond to an emergency in a speedy and efficient manner, Shen said.
The government appeared to offer conflicting accounts on the nation’s aid offer to Japan, as both President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said yesterday that Japan had formally asked Taiwan on Friday for assistance, including rescue teams and rescue dogs, and Wu said the Taiwanese rescue teams could leave for Japan yesterday or today.
However, Shen said he was not aware of the discussions that both Ma and Wu mentioned.
According to Huang, Taiwan first offered to send rescue teams to Japan, but Tokyo told Taipei to hold off for the time being.
Shen said the ministry was told by Japanese Representative to Taiwan Tadashi Imai that Tokyo did not need the help and that Japan would stay in contact with Taipei if it needed assistance as the situation developed.
Several Taiwan International Emergency Rescue Team groups were also ready to leave for Japan as officials in Taipei continued to contact their Japanese counterparts to offer assistance for rescue efforts, Shen added.
Meanwhile, former Japanese prime minister Toshiki Kaifu, who is on a three-day visit in Taipei, called a press conference yesterday to express gratitude to Ma, who Kaifu said twice made telephone calls to offer his condolences to Japan and the Japanese people.
Kaifu said he was not in a position to comment on why Tokyo declined Taipei’s help, a decision he believed was made by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying that he personally thought that “the offer should be accepted.”
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