Haiti becomes diplomatic battlefield for Taiwan, China

2010-01-19 14:27

Last week’s earthquake in Haiti not only killed as many as 200 000

people and devastated its capital, but it has also turned the Caribbean country

into a diplomatic battlefield for Taiwan and China.

Poverty-stricken Haiti is one of the 23 mostly small nations that

recognise Taiwan, but China has been trying to woo it.

Before the quake, China

opened a trade mission in Port-au-Prince and deployed 142 police as part of the

United Nations peacekeeping force there.

The January 12 earthquake has thrown the Taiwan-China diplomatic

battle into the spotlight again as both sides are rushing search-and-rescue

teams and aid to Haiti.

So far, Taipei and Beijing’s donations to Haiti are about the same,

but Beijing was ahead of Taipei in dispatching a search-and-rescue team and

airlifting aid to Haiti.

The Chinese team flew into Port-au-Prince Thursday while the Taiwan

team arrived by way of the Dominican Republic Saturday.

China sent a planeload of aid to Haiti on Saturday while Taiwan’s

chartered plane with aid left Taipei on Monday.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing overcame extreme difficulties

in obtaining landing rights for its plane despite a lack of diplomatic ties with


Beijing’s trade representative, Wang Shuping, and Li Chunlin, a

member of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s work team in Haiti, visited Haiti’s

aviation bureau and persuaded it to issue a landing permit.

China has pledged cash donations of $4.4 million and $1 million in

aid for Haiti.

Taiwan has donated $5 million US cash and $364,000 worth of


President Ma Ying-jeou said on Tuesday that Taiwan would try its

best to help Haiti even though “no matter how much help we give, it is never

enough in view of the devastation caused by the earthquake.”

He, however, held out on whether Taiwan should scrap Haiti’s debt,

saying the loans were from Taiwan’s banks, not the government. “As to whether we

should reduce or cancel Haiti’s debts, I have instructed the Foreign Ministry to

carefully study it,” he said.

Ma plans to visit Haiti to deliver aid when he flies to Honduras

next week to attend the inauguration of president-elect Porfirio Lobo


Taiwan officials said the island is also willing to help Haiti

rebuild after the quake.

“But we must consult the Haitian government to work out the details

for the post-quake reconstruction,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Chen

Ming-cheng said.

Lee Ke-tsung, an associate engineering professor at Feng Chia

University in Taichung, said Taiwan should send a team of architects and

engineers to Haiti to plan reconstruction along with Haitian engineers.

“In rebuilding Haiti, we must draw experience from earthquake-prone

nations like Taiwan and Japan,” Lee said. “We must ask the Haiti government what

type of buildings it needs and find out Haiti’s quake-resistance


So far, China has kept politics out of its dispatch of aid and a

search-and-rescue team to Haiti, but has suggested Beijing and Taipei form a

joint team.

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