Helping after Taiwan typhoon, US avoids confronting China

Officials say Washington did not notify Beijing before quietly dispatching an amphibious ship and aircraft to provide humanitarian aid.

Taiwan Military News Agency/ Reuters
A US Navy helicopter transports an excavator from Tainan air force base to the mountains that has been affected by landslides in Kaohsiung County following typhoon in Morakot, southern Taiwan, on Tuesday.

American officials are treading diplomatic waters carefully in providing humanitarian relief to Taiwan following the typhoon there earlier this month.

The US has quietly sent the amphibious ship USS Denver as well as heavy-lift helicopters and cargo planes to the region to bring relief supplies like water purification equipment and plastic sheeting, a defense official said. A number of four-ton excavators the US is providing at the Taiwanese government's request arrived Tuesday.

But the US has kept its contributions modest and has not sought attention as it seeks to avoid a diplomatic confrontation with China. It did not appear that the US had contacted China before extending a hand for relief efforts in Taiwan.

"I don't believe that we felt it was necessary to inform China in advance," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Monday. "Obviously, this is a serious humanitarian situation that Taiwan is facing."

But it seems unlikely that the US wouldn't have telegraphed its intentions to help Taiwan to China, says one analyst in Washington.

"There had to be some kind of signal sent, it would only be prudent" says Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. He said the US sending support is a good sign – better than having China send too much help.

"If they were Chinese helicopters, it would be shocking actually, because it would show a degree of integration with the mainland that no one would be comfortable with," says Lohman.

China is offering to send more than $6 million (US) to Taiwan, and the proposal is under review, according to reports.

Typhoon Morakot dropped more than 100 inches of rain on the country Aug. 7, killing at least 120 people, creating massive landslides, and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

The Taiwanese Army-led relief effort has been slowed by a bureaucracy ill-prepared to contend with the aftermath.

Tuesday, the deputy foreign minister resigned over the slow pace of recovery efforts after initially telling the international community that the Taiwanese government would not accept offers of help.

Since then as many as 60 countries have contributed about $2 million in relief supplies and cash, Voice of America reported.

The USS Denver arrived Monday with heavy-lift helicopters used to carry equipment to remote mountainous areas cut off when the typhoon struck. One of the helicopters conducted a site survey, and the helicopters were helping to bring in other relief supplies, defense officials said.

In addition to the equipment and supplies, the US has contributed $250,000 to the Red Cross there, according to a State Department official.

"We're in touch with the Taiwan authorities and will provide additional assistance if asked," says the spokeswoman.



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