Friday, May 16, 2008

Humanitarianism and Humanism

Humanitarianism and Humanism:
A Major Earthquake turns into an Opportunity for Dialogue
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 16, 2008

The outgoing DPP government has announced that it will raise two billion NT in disaster relief for victims of the Sichuan Earthquake, to be followed by another 700 million NT. Civil servants will donate one day's wages, funds will be raised from the community, and humanitarian charter flights will take off immediately.

This has provoked controversy. Those who object ask, "Why should we contribute to [mainland] China, when it is aiming its missiles at Taiwan?" Or, "Why didn't we contribute the same amount to Myanmar?" Or, "Why propose such an extravagant project five days before you step down?" Nevertheless we would maintain that based on the merits alone, the DPP government's initiative is timely and correct.

The Sichuan Earthquake occurred during a political administration change on Taiwan. The fact that disaster relief activities were initiated by the outgoing DPP's Chang Chun-hsiung cabinet makes it more symbolically meaningful than if it had been initiated by the incoming KMT's Liu Chao-hsuan cabinet. By the same token, Frank Hsieh's donation of 200,000 NT to disaster relief is more meaningful than Ma Ying-jeou's 200,000 NT donation. The ruling DPP government's relief program is significant because it offers an opportunity to conduct humanitarian cross-strait dialogue.

Taiwan's political infighting and cross-strait conflict have complicated public perception of the Chinese mainland. During the early stages of the Sichuan earthquake, the public on Taiwan seemed embarrassed, as if it didn't quite know how to react. Once upon a time, people on Taiwan referred to people on the mainland as "compatriots." But "de-Sinicization" has led to subtle change. Moreover, because leaders on both sides perceive the relationship to be one of hostility, an ambivalent relationship has developed among the people as well. The Sichuan earthquake has triggered powerful humanitarian sentiments. It has swept aside hostility and suspicion. It has led to fence-mending between authorities and people on both sides of the strait. The DPP government can and must seize the opportunity to pledge large scale disaster relief. This would amount to a clear expression of goodwill toward the mainland. Now at least, if the public on Taiwan wishes to express sympathy for disaster victims and offer assistance, they need no longer be constrained by Political Correctness.

The theme of this round of cross-strait dialogue is humanitarian and people-oriented. One could say it is a dialogue between September 21 and May 12, i.e., between the Chi Chi Earthquake in Taiwan and the Wenchuan Earthquake in Sichuan. When people on both sides of the strait experienced catastrophic earthquakes on May 12 and September 21, they knew the only real issue was how to save lives. In fact it is the common concern for authorities on both sides of the strait. When leaders on each side confront the aftermath of September 21 and May 12, they know how the other feels. The overriding concern for both sides is how to save lives. Politics is supposed implement humanitarian and humanist ideals. If the ruling and opposition parties on both sides of the strait cherish and uphold humanitarian and humanist ideals, then they can look forward to mutually beneficial relations.

The tragic scenes of disaster resemble hell on earth. This has focused everyone's attention on humanitarian concerns alone. This has forced governments to resume their proper role as servants of the people. A tearful Wen Jiabao told a young girl orphaned by the quake, "Fortunately you lived, therefore you must live on." He told her "Don't worry. The government will take care of you, will help you get an education." He spoke the orphan's pain. He also underscored the government and the nation's responsibilities. The lesson of the May 12 and September 21 earthquakes is that nations must be founded on humanitarian and humanist values. Whether one refers to China as the "People's Republic of China" or the "Republic of China" is secondary. If future cross-strait dialogue is based on humanitarian and humanist values, including democracy, it may lead to a better understanding of each others' political positions, and encourage mutually beneficial interactions. For example, the mainland authorities say they are pinning their hopes on the people on Taiwan. If one approaches the issue from a humanitarian, humanist, and democratic perspective, then when the mainland authorities say they are "pinning hopes on the people on Taiwan" they must consider what the people on Taiwan want.

The primary cause for the deterioration in cross-strait relations was not conflict between the political authorities on the two sides, but a the absence of commonly held interests among the people on the two sides. We hope the current September 21/May 12 dialogue will help the people on the two sides to reclaim lost goodwill, and through people to people contacts, encourage their leaders to improve cross-straits relations. In other words, let 23 million people and 1.3 billion people talk to each other. Let 23 million people and 1.3 billion talk to their leaders. Let the earthquake break up the cross-strait political impasse. Renew cross-strait dialogue and on this humanitarian, humanist foundation, seek common cross-strait goals.

Why is Taiwan's reaction to the Sichuan earthquake different from its reaction to the floods in Myanmar? Even before Chang Chun-hsiung announced that the government's intention to raise two billion NT for disaster relief, Wang Yung-ching and other entrepreneurs had already contributed far than that. It was perfectly natural. It was only right. No one should have expected otherwise.

The Chang Chun-hsiung cabinet's disaster relief effort is more symbolically meaningful than the Liu Chao-hsuan cabinet's disaster relief effort. And by the same token, Frank Hsieh's 200,000 NT is more symbolically meaningful than Ma Ying-jeou's 200,000 NT donation.

2008.05.16 02:20 am










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