Photo Credit: OitaKiseichu/WikiCommons/CC
TWO EARTHQUAKES struck the Kyushu region of Japan this week, with a total of 48 dead as of Wednesday. It may be of note to point out the differing responses from official bodies in Taiwan towards the earthquake. Donation funding after the quake has been a popular topic of discussion among citizens from China and Taiwan respectively.
In response to the earthquake, mayors from Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung have sent their condolences to Japan, and offered to donate a month of their pay. President-elect Tsai Ing-Wen made a prompt statement addressing the earthquake, and made a donation of 1 million NTD on behalf of the DPP. Though the Kumamoto earthquake happened less than three months after the Tainan earthquake and Tainan is still in the midst of clearing the destruction, Tainan’s DPP mayor William Lai set up an official donation account for the Kumamoto earthquake, and even called out to Japan to ask for any help if needed.
One might point out the trend that those that made prompt statements of condolence and were quick to offer donations have been mayors that are members of the DPP, with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je as an exception as an independent. Eric Chu, mayor of New Taipei City and a member of the KMT, made no statement with regards to the earthquake. President Ma Ying-jeou also made no effort to put out a statement with regards to the earthquake on his official Facebook fanpage, despite being Taiwan’s head of state and sending condolences to Japan in that capacity. Official channels to date have claimed that 10 million yen (92,000 USD) will be donated to the Kumamoto earthquake, but compared to amounts donated to China in the past, it is often an object of mockery among netizens in Taiwan that the Taiwan government donates so much to China, which is hostile to Taiwan, but not to Japan, which is very friendly to Taiwan.
It is not surprising to see why. After the 3/11 Tohoku earthquake in 2011, Japanese are still thanking Taiwanese for their donation and help, despite it being 5 years since the earthquake happened. The courtesy of the Japanese extends to even the most common urban areas, where Japanese are sometimes seen holding signs around Ximending, a popular tourist destination in Taipei, thanking Taiwanese for their help. Furthermore, signs thanking Taiwan for their donations are seen even at baseball events where Taiwan is set to play against Japan. The courtesy displayed here oftentimes widely circulates on online and on television, hence continuing feelings of good faith between Taiwanese and Japanese.
On the contrary, China did not explicitly extend their thanks to Taiwan for donations after disaster relief efforts from Taiwan to China in the past, despite the large amount of donations in the 2008 and 2013 Sichuan Earthquake. There are also often cases where donation funds are misappropriated in China, leading to further rifts and distrust between Taiwanese and Chinese.
However, trying to judge the strength of relation between countries by donation amounts should be seen cautiously. Other forms of humanitarian aid, such as donation of resources and professional natural disaster site relief volunteers, are also to be included as harder to quantify forms of aid. Moreover, donations vary also in consideration of the extent of destruction, site, and lack or presence of infrastructure to provide disaster relief relative to a country’s development. It is possible to understand why the Sichuan earthquake in general would have received more donations due to poorer infrastructure development for disaster relief in China, but that does not mean that there is not also a political factor involved.
Besides donations, the treatment of Taiwanese tourists are also an interesting case to examine. On April 17th, a report from Xinhua News, one of China’s state-run news agencies, claimed that the Chinese embassy located in Fukuoka, Japan had assisted four Taiwanese tourists in leaving the disaster site. The news emphasized how the four Taiwanese tourists asked directly for the help of the Chinese embassy instead of the TECO in Japan. The emphasis on their seeking Chinese help is, of course, to denigrate Taiwanese sovereignty.
Disaster relief efforts in Japan continue. However, as with other natural disasters, disaster aid relief becomes politicized terrain between nations.