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Much Ado About Nothing? Controversies Surrounding Humanitarian Assistance for Ukraine in Taiwan

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan. Photo by Olimpia Kot-Giletycz

What is going on?

Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯), a Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang; KMT) legislator, accused Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of indirect involvement in the internal politics of the Czech Republic through a mishandling of donations related to Taiwan’s assistance to Ukraine. Soon enough, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) responded to these allegations. This issue illustrates ongoing disputes between the two dominant parties that went a step further by involving third countries in Taiwan’s domestic political competition.

 

What is the broader picture?

Kuomintang legislator Hsu Chiao-hsin recently questioned a 10 million USD contract to provide aid to Ukraine. The deal is a result of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in December 2023 between the Representatives of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Prague (TECO) and the Czech Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei (CECO). A three-year partnership aims at restoring Ukraine’s primary healthcare capacity. The Czech government designated the Czech Health Technology Institute (CHTI), a non-profit organization, to carry out the project, which two offices would supervise. The MOU also states that 30 to 40 percent of the donation made by Taiwan would be allocated for the procurement of Taiwan-made medical supplies, providing business opportunities for domestic manufacturers, and assisting them in entering the European market. Hsu, however, accused MOFA of indirect involvement in Czech party politics because Petr Foit, the chairman of CHTI, is also involved in the medical supplies industry and maintains close political and business ties with members of the Czech parliament.

In response, the President of the Executive Yuan, Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said that Hsu disclosed classified documents and fabricated information, which is harmful to the defense of Taiwan’s sovereignty and international diplomacy. At the same time, MOFA spokesperson Jeff Liu (劉永健) held a press conference and issued a six-point statement, emphasizing that the agreement’s details are open and transparent. He also assured that MOFA will be prepared to undertake legal action in response to the leakage of sensitive documents. Legislator Hung Mong-kai (洪孟楷), the KMT caucus leader, commented that MOFA is avoiding solutions to the problem, blaming Hsu for confidential information leakage instead.

Faced with the question of revealing confidential information, Hsu claimed that she did not break the law and only fulfilled the legislator’s duty to protect Taiwanese citizens’ interests and spoke “on behalf of all the people of the Republic of China.” However, this comment triggered mixed responses from the netizens who launched the campaign “I did not let Hsu Chiao-hsin represent me” on Facebook and Threads. There were also voices recalling that less than a month ago, Hsu and her husband were questioned over their income and the veracity of their asset declarations by DPP politicians, including New Taipei City Councilor Lee Yu-hsiang (李宇翔) and legislator Huang Jie (黃捷).

 

Why does it matter?

Taiwan has demonstrated its commitment to facilitating humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

Immediately after the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Taiwanese government and private sector engaged in humanitarian aid operations. Due to the lack of formal relations with Ukraine, Taiwan cooperates with friendly neighboring countries, including the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia, and in some cases, directly with Ukrainian local governments or non-governmental organizations to deliver aid. Czech governmental envoy for the reconstruction of Ukraine, Tomaš Kopečný visited Taiwan twice during the past few months to discuss the ongoing Czech-Taiwan cooperation on humanitarian projects for Ukraine that include providing potable water, heat, and power through the reconstruction of water treatment facilities and gas-fired cogeneration power plants that serve over 100 thousand people. As a result of this cooperation, pediatric, gynecology, emergency, and general surgery clinics were established in areas of eastern Ukraine devastated by the Russian invasion. Also, after the people of Taiwan amassed donations exceeding 1 million USD to support the work of People in Need, a prominent Czech NGO, helping Ukrainian refugees, Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) paid a visit to the organization.

At the same time, the current scandal, driven primarily by inter-party domestic competition in Taiwan, can cause serious reputational damage to Taiwan. There are concerns that the ongoing dispute might raise doubts regarding Taiwan being a reliable, key partner in providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and negatively affect relations of Taiwan with like-minded European partners.

The KMT asserted its commitment to supporting Ukraine—most recently, party chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) attended the Europe Day celebrations donning a Ukrainian flag on his shirt. At the same time, the party experienced the fallout from an invitation it had extended to Russia’s representative to Taipei to attend its international banquet in April.