In a rare move, Nepal has turned down Taiwan’s offer to help in search and rescue efforts following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region, leaving over 4,000 people dead.
In the two days after the landlocked country’s worst quake in 80 years hit between the capital Kathmandu and Pokhara, humanitarian aid has been flowing in from across the world, including China, which on Sunday sent a 62-member International Search and Rescue team to the capital to search for survivors in the destruction. A second group from the People’s Liberation Army arrived on Sunday evening bringing desperately needed supplies. A team from Taiwan, however, was not asked to make the trip, a decision which the Nepalese government said was based on a lack of diplomatic ties and the “great distance” between them.
Observers have speculated that China’s significant presence in Nepal has factored into the government’s decision to turn away Taiwan’s help, and it has since been criticized for putting “politics ahead of lives”. Time Magazine has questioned whether the assistance from China, which is increasingly making inroads in Nepal through investment in infrastructure and trade, will later push for greater control there.
It’s still uncertain whether Taiwan’s exclusion is an oversight or a (very poorly timed) slight. But it is clear that a mere two days after the quake, as Nepalis dig barehanded for their loved ones, and families sleep outside in the pouring rain, geopolitical questions loom large. Chief among them is how China’s involvement in the recovery effort could further change the balance of power in the region, challenging India and potentially putting Nepal’s Tibetan exile community at risk.
According to the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry, 167 Taiwanese are still trapped in Nepal and 26 of them are missing.
Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Kao said yesterday that Taiwan will still send an advance team to Nepal to assess the need for medical assistance, and several NGO and charity groups have organized rescue missions, together raising around 300,000 USD in aid.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has also set up a relief center in Nepal and Taiwan’s Red Cross started a fundraising drive for post-disaster reconstruction.
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[Image via Xinhua]