● 方恩格（Ross Darrell Feingold）／前美國共和黨海外部亞太區主席
By Ross Darrell Feingold
Former Asia Chairman, Republicans Abroad
The international community has quickly mobilized to send rescue teams and aid after the devastating earthquakes in the south-eastern region of Türkiye and northern region of Syria last Monday. Many countries have sent personnel or financial aid and supplies, and as a wealthy country and responsible member of the international community, it is Taiwan’s obligation to join these efforts too. Taiwan has joined such efforts many times, including in El Salvador, Iran, Indonesia, mainland China, and Haiti.
However, several aspects of Taiwan’s response to the Türkiye-Syria earthquake disappointed this author.
First, in the hours immediately after the earthquake, the Taiwan government announced it will donate USD200,000. It’s unclear why Taiwan announced a small donation at a time when the scope of the disaster had yet to be determined. Whether it is a lack of situational awareness, or a desire to quickly obtain positive news coverage for Taiwan, the announcement was rushed.
Fortunately, the donation was later increased to USD2,000,000, though this is still relatively small. For example, Korea’s Samsung Electronics announced a donation of USD1,500,000 in cash and USD1,500,000 in goods. If the financial resources of Taiwan’s government limit it to a USD2,000,000 donation, it’s probably unnecessary to include the dollar amount in English language tweets by government agencies that are directed at the global community.
Perhaps recognizing that Taiwan’s donation is relatively small, President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai, and Premier Chen Chien-jen then each donated one month’s salary to relief efforts, which Taiwan media then reported as having significant coverage in Türkiye media.
Second, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted multiple times about airport send-offs for the search and rescue teams. The first tweet showed Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu and the Minister of the Interior Lin Yu-chang, and the second tweet showed Premier Chen and Minister Wu.
The mainland’s state media also had reports about the airport send-off of its search and rescue team departing for Türkiye. When Taiwan government officials and mainland government officials have similar public relations strategies, something must be wrong.
President Tsai and Minister of the Interior Lin then held a video conference with the search and rescue team shortly after it arrived in Türkiye. It is no surprise that some in Taiwan criticized this as being an unnecessary publicity stunt.
Third is the Ministry of the Interior National Fire Agency’s desire to announce a “breakthrough”. A United Nations website lists the home country of the search and rescue teams that are in Türkiye. For the Taiwan search and rescue team, the description is “Taipei, Taiwan”. The National Fire Agency proclaimed this is a big breakthrough. Perhaps it would be a big breakthrough if the description was “Taiwan” just like the other descriptions are only the name of the country. However, adding “Taipei” is clearly for purposes of showing Taiwan is not a country. What is the National Fire Agency so happy about?
A similar reaction occurred when the BBC included Taiwan on a list of countries sending aid to Türkiye, and some Taiwan media reported this is a breakthrough. However, many international media refer to Taiwan as a country, thus, the BBC report is not a breakthrough either.
It is understandable that the Taiwan government seeks positive publicity for the aid Taiwan provides to Türkiye and Syria. But those responsible for the publicity should keep in mind that a tragedy occurred and be more careful in their publicity efforts. In addition, during the upcoming presidential and legislative election campaigns the Taiwan government and Democratic Progressive Party will emphasize their foreign policy successes, and try to seek more foreign policy “breakthroughs”. However, a similar strategy to sell foreign relations success to voters in last November’s local election failed.
Finally, the European Commission has announced that in March, it will host an international donor conference for Türkiye and Syria. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs likes to note that the European Commission’s Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific stresses Taiwan's role as a responsible partner. Does that mean the European Commission will allow the Taiwan government to attend? Probably not, as the European Commission says the conference is for “EU Member States, neighboring countries, United Nations members, international financial institutions and other relevant stakeholders”.
Taiwan’s aid to Türkiye and Syria is admirable, but not it’s not yet a foreign policy breakthrough.