The Chinese government offered today to send rescue teams, tents and quilts to Taiwan to help victims of Tuesday's massive earthquake, but Taiwan declined, saying such aid is not needed at the moment. Taiwanese officials left open the door to a related Chinese offer of a cash donation, which it first suggested on Tuesday.
It was a decidedly mixed response to unprecedented Chinese overtures. While the mainland has received more than $50 million in disaster relief from Taiwanese donors since the 1980s, China has never sent aid to the island it considers to be a breakaway province.
Although tensions across the Taiwan Strait have abated since the quake, there has been no symbolic breakthrough in relations akin to that seen by rivals Turkey and Greece following their shared grief and mutual aid in recent back-to-back earthquakes. Some in Taiwan are finding it difficult to be gracious about accepting China's helping hand given Beijing's bellicose rhetoric of the past two months.
After Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui declared in July that Taiwan's relations with China should be on a "state-to-state" basis, the Chinese government warned of "catastrophe" if Taiwan did not back down, and the military held a large-scale mock invasion of Taiwan.
Now Chinese newspapers are full of sympathetic reports on the tragedy that has befallen people they call "our flesh and blood."
"It is ironic that it takes such a disaster and loss of life in Taiwan to somehow lower the tension between China and Taiwan," said Parris H. Chang, a member of Taiwan's legislature from the Democratic Progressive Party.
Chang Yung-shan, a spokesman for Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which forms policy toward China, expressed a qualified thanks for China's offer to send doctors, seismologists and other rescue workers. He noted that rescue teams from 17 other countries, including the United States and Japan, are already at work.
"If [the Chinese] come now, it's not clear to me if it would be useful or not," Chang said. "We welcome the humanitarian assistance, but I'm afraid they could have some political purpose."
In addition to offering specialists and material aid, China offered an unspecified amount of cash, following its earlier announcement that its branch of the Red Cross would make a donation of $100,000. Taiwan Straits Exchange Foundation secretary-general Jan Jyh-Horng said China would need to clarify the amount involved and its proposed method of transfer before Taiwan could make arrangements to accept it. "We express our thanks. If and when there is a need, we will accept their specialists," said Jan.