Nepal Puts Politics Ahead of LivesTaiwan is ready to send rescue teams to quake-hit Nepal, but Beijing-friendly Kathmandu says no thanks
Given China’s significant presence in Nepal, the news today that Kathmandu has turned down Taiwan’s offer to help with search-and-rescue efforts following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck at the weekend, killing more than 3,200 people and displacing thousands more, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Along China’s periphery, politics tend to get in the way of people’s welfare.
Hours after Saturday’s deadly temblor, several SAR teams in Taiwan readied to depart for Nepal to help look for survivors under collapsed buildings. This included a 20-member team with rescue dogs. Taipei, which routinely tops donors’ lists in post-disaster assistance to foreign countries, has also pledged US$300,000 in financial assistance so far, and the Taiwanese Red Cross has started a fundraising drive to collect US$1 million
However, Kathmandu said “thanks, but no thanks,” citing lack of diplomatic ties, the “great distance” and the absence of direct flights as the reasons why it turned down Taipei’s offer to send rescue workers, and said it would ask again later if such help were necessary. (Teams from neighboring countries China, India and Pakistan, meanwhile, have received the green light.)
For the thousands more who stand to lose their lives during the critical hours ahead (in the “golden hours” after a disaster, expediency is of the essence), I’m pretty sure that the absence of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Nepal isn’t foremost on their minds at the moment. A country with substantial expertise in SAR (Taiwan gets more than its share of strong earthquakes and typhoons) and which is ready to deploy at a moment’s notice is being prevented — ostensibly for political reasons — from engaging in humanitarian assistance, and likely from saving lives. The absence of direct flights and the “great distance” between the two countries (3,700km) are not valid reasons for turning down the offer. After all, Taiwan’s C-130s are perfectly capable of doing the journey: a Taiwanese C-130 flew 40,000km to and from Haiti in 2010 to bring humanitarian aid following a devastating earthquake (though it had to paint over the Republic of China emblem while transiting through the U.S. lest such visibility hurt the feelings of…you know who).
Despite the slap in the face, Taipei says it will dispatch medical teams to conduct preliminary assessments.
For Nepalese officials, the risk of “angering” Beijing by allowing Taiwan’s participation in early rescue efforts apparently outweighs the benefit of the goodwill and experience that Taiwanese have offered. If Nepalese victims don’t receive timely assistance, there is a chance that some of them will have died in vain because of politics and the cowardice of Nepalese officials. Will Kathmandu be held accountable for such callousness? Probably not. After all, this is a regime that has increasingly depended on Beijing’s financial assistance and that has willingly participated in the repression of its own 20,000 Tibetans as the price to pay for closer economic ties with China. Tibetan groups claim that Nepali authorities banned all public activities to mark the anniversary of “Uprising Day” on March 10 this year.
As President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) rightly said after the C-130 mission to Haiti in 2010, Taiwan may be isolated diplomatically, but it can integrate the international community through humanitarian work. But even there, Beijing and its lackeys within the region won’t allow that. And Taiwan is the troublemaker?
J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.