Politicking as usual in the wake of the tsunami

From Jakarta Post via AP: Taiwan is accusing China of blocking its tsunami relief efforts:

Taiwan’s vice president on Monday accused rival China of trying to block Taiwanese efforts to send tsunami relief to Southeast Asia using military aircraft and vessels.

Taiwan has offered to use the craft to speed up delivery of rice, medical goods and other supplies to Indonesia and Thailand — but Taiwanese officials said those governments were concerned about China’s possible objection.

Indonesia and Thailand have not publicly confirmed those concerns.

Vice President Annette Lu said China also blocked Taiwan from attending an international relief summit in Indonesia last week.

Emphasis mine. The first issue, the use of military aircraft, seems like it will be perceived as a de facto assertion of independence, and it is understandable that the governments of Indonesia and Thailand would not want to offend China in this matter.

The second issue is more tragic. Like during the SARS crisis, China is hell-bent on preventing Taiwanese participation in international organizations and fora, even those dealing with humanitarian matters (like the WHO, and this relief summit). The irony is that during the Cold War, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) already had a seat in the United Nations, even though it is de facto and de jure not independent. Taiwan, on the other hand, is de facto independent, which makes its exclusion from international bodies all the more important.

So it’s Chinese callousness against Taiwanese opportunism. Not a pretty sight.

A similar development is occuring in Aceh: the military warning aid workers that separatists have taken shelter in survivor camps, the government denying this, and Australia feeling compelled to state that their troops on the ground will not be involved militarily.

Civilian control over the Indonesian military is, alas, still rather shaky, even though the current president is an ex-general. Whether this has to do with the re-appointment of Abdurrahman Wahid’s defense minister, Dr. Juwono Sudarsono – Indonesia’s first civilian holding that post – or just general intransigence on the part of the military, now excluded from politics, protecting its turf, is hard to say.

There has been reports of the military interfering with delivery of aid, but at least for now foreigners are allowed on the ground, putting constraints on the former’s freedom of action. The lesson of history is that people don’t learn from it – Aceh was turning into our Vietnam + Afghanistan + Iraq combined – the guerillas are probably less popular than the Viet-cong among the local populace but more than the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, the army earns a tidy sum contracting out to protect Western oil and gas fields, and both sides are alleged to be involved in drug trafficking.. hopefully the tsunami gave all sides a chance to start anew.

After all, even piracy in the Strait of Malacca is down to nothing.. at least for the moment.


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