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  • President Ma holds reception in Swaziland for traveling press corps
  • Date
President Ma Ying-jeou on April 16 spent a second day in the Kingdom of Swaziland, and in the afternoon attended a reception for Taiwan's traveling press corps, during which he shared his feelings about his visits to three of the ROC's allies in Africa, as well as the ROC's future diplomatic policies and objectives. The president also responded to questions from reporters about issues relating to Taiwan, including the Han Kuang series of military exercises, the ROC's diplomatic strategies and models, and future national defense strategies. Also attending the press conference were Senior Advisor to the President Chan Chi-shean (詹啟賢), National Security Council Secretary-General Hu Wei-jen (胡為真), and Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Chin-tien Yang (楊進添).

President Ma stated that this visit has had enormous significance. He and the delegation have visited Burkina Faso, the Republic of The Gambia, and the Kingdom of Swaziland, he said, adding that the leaders of these nations have visited Taiwan many times, but that the ROC's leaders had not had the opportunity to make return visits. The President added that since taking office he had not visited Africa, and therefore strongly hoped to understand the state of relations between the ROC and its African allies. Over the course of this trip, he said, he has learned more about the assistance provided by Taiwan to Africa, and about related issues. Ideas on how to improve this assistance have also been aired, he said. President Ma explained that on the evening of April 15, he convened a meeting with Senior Advisor Chan, National Security Council Secretary-General Hu, and Deputy Minister Lin Tzou-yien (林奏延) of the Department of Health to examine topics related to international medical assistance, and to consider how to better integrate and delegate work in the future in order to introduce Taiwan's management models to other countries instead of focusing on dispatching doctors, nurses, and medical technicians overseas.

The president also mentioned the "Light for Africa" project, noting that it started out as purely an assistance project, but now has developed into an investment initiative that extends beyond Burkina Faso and West Africa to all countries in Africa that face a shortage of electricity and need to be included in the project. In addition, he said, the makers of the lamps and various components used in them have already set up plants in The Gambia. What's more, the technology used in the "Light for Africa" project is constantly being upgraded, so even as the ROC assists its friends in addressing the problem of a lack of light and insufficient electricity, the project is also helping to generate business opportunities for companies in Taiwan's solar energy industry. President Ma also spoke about a handicrafts training center that he visited earlier in the day. He said that a considerable amount of handicrafts technology and skills have already been transferred to Swaziland and that at present the ROC is only responsible for providing assistance in the area of vocational training. Moreover, this assistance is also about to come to a conclusion. President Ma commented that the results of this work have been stunning. He noted that Minister Mboge of Works, Construction & Infrastructure, who accompanied the delegation on a tour of the vocational training center, was in fact a graduate from that facility. The sewing classes held there, he said, have helped local women and provided a source of livelihood to women in remote villages, thereby boosting household incomes. The president remarked that even though we may view the amount of money earned from sewing as somewhat limited, this added income enables them to provide their children necessary medical care, and to buy things. What's most important, the president said, is that this work helps to raise the status and dignity of housewives. He said the work being carried out in this respect is moving ahead step by step, and the benefits are gradually materializing.

President Ma also made reference to the longest serving ROC agricultural technical mission in Africa. He remarked that during the recent visit to The Gambia, Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) Secretary General Tao Wen-lung (陶文隆) mentioned that ROC agricultural assistance to some countries has primarily focused on the production of rice, but it may be necessary to discontinue such assistance due to such factors as market supply, the availability of water, and cost structure comparisons. For example, rice production has gone well in Swaziland, but it is still difficult for locally produced rice to compete against imports. In particular, South Africa covers a huge area and is rich in resources. In many places, rice can be sown by dropping seeds from planes. It is hard for small local farms to be able to compete against operations like that, Tao explained, so it might be advisable to plant sweet potatoes or other crops with greater economic value. The president said that these are issues that the members of the delegation have been discussing throughout this trip.
President Ma stated that the objective of this journey has been quite simple. He said that as a member of the international community with a GDP of over US$20,000 per capita, the ROC wants to consider how best to help less developed countries. This, he remarked, is an important international responsibility for us. The president particularly pointed to events over the past several years, such as the financial tsunami and the economic recession. Most resources available to us have been kept in Taiwan to help expand domestic demand, he said, while the amount of funding dedicated to foreign assistance has in fact fallen to less than 0.1% of our GDP. The president stated that funding will increase after Taiwan's economic situation picks up. But he said that certain funding is extremely critical and time-sensitive. President Ma remarked that while survival is not an issue for some countries, the assistance they receive from the ROC is crucial to their development. Then there are some countries that have encountered big problems, he said, such as the huge influx of refugees from Mali to Burkina Faso, where aid money from the ROC has been used to nip food shortages in the bud. The president explained that one can't wait for shortages or food riots to occur before starting to provide assistance, for by then it is already too late. Preventive measures must be taken to prevent chaos from erupting. President Ma said that the situation in Burkina Faso is quite worrisome, as tens of thousands of Malian nationals have fled to Burkina Faso. Many have taken their livestock with them, which they are unable to properly care for. President Ma said that the ROC recognizes the difficulties facing Burkina Faso and has provided 1.6 million euro in financial assistance to that nation. This is not an extravagant amount, he said, but it does show our concern for the situation in Burkina Faso, he said.

With regard to the future direction of the ROC's diplomatic agenda, the president said that the nation remains committed to providing foreign aid, and that this assistance will be carried out under the principle of "seeking proper goals, acting lawfully, and exercising effective administration." However, what will be re-examined is the type of assistance that is provided. President Ma pointed to the example of medical assistance, saying that this will undoubtedly continue, but that we need to carefully consider what is the most effective way of providing this assistance. The president remarked that our diplomatic allies are located far from Taiwan, and that transporting personnel back and forth gets to be extremely costly. Consequently, we need to look at how to reduce costs and focus on using those resources in the countries receiving the assistance. President Ma said that the people of these nations are deeply grateful for these services, so we will continue to maintain them. What needs to change is the way they are provided. The president said that after he returns to Taiwan, meetings will be held to comprehensively examine these issues.

The ROC's external assistance work will continue, said the president, who pointed to the example of the National Hospital of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso. In 2006, during the administration of the Democratic Progressive Party, the government agreed to private lending of US$60 million to Burkina Faso to build and operate the hospital. The facility was completed and opened in 2010, and the president said that this is a continuing project that everyone agrees is quite important. Therefore, everyone needs to work together to solve whatever problems have been plaguing the project instead of only criticizing it, he said. The expansion of foreign aid work, he said, must be carried out under the framework of our fundamental philosophy, the president added. He remarked that foreign aid is something the ROC has to provide. The president acknowledged that some people question why the government, if it has money to provide assistance to Burkina Faso, doesn't use these funds to assist remote villages in Taiwan. The president stated that if such reasoning is carried to the extreme, it will ultimately become difficult for the ROC to make progress in its diplomatic agenda, especially since a large portion of the ROC's foreign affairs work is related to foreign assistance. Many nations, with the exception of the Holy See, need the assistance that is provided by the ROC, he said, furthermore remarking that this is an important part of our diplomatic work. The government has different agencies responsible for different areas of work, and each has expertise and importance in its respective field. It is not fair to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not important, the president remarked, adding that otherwise there would be no point in establishing that ministry. In fact, he said, the ministry's funding over the past several years has not increased, but rather has seen a decrease. Some people criticize that these funds should be used for social welfare at home, the president acknowledged, but he also said that what these people might not understand is the importance of the ROC's foreign assistance work. Many people overseas are waiting for our help, he said. Meanwhile, we also need their assistance in the international community, where they often speak on our behalf. Moreover, the ROC has nearly reached developed nation status and must fulfill its responsibility to provide foreign assistance.

The objective of the ROC's foreign affairs work is quite clear, the president said, noting that the foremost goal is to solidify the alliances with our diplomatic partners, followed by expanding relations with countries with which we do not maintain diplomatic ties, fostering increased contacts with these nations, and winning the respect of the international community, thereby enabling Taiwan to have greater space to exist in the international community. With these goals in mind, different means of assistance can be implemented, given the circumstances and needs of different places, he said. The president commented that diplomats have traditionally communicated with high-ranking officials in other countries at dinner meetings, receptions, sporting events, and other such occasions. However, this is not the only means to engage in interaction, he said. Two leaders, the president stated, can go hiking or swimming, and still be able to discuss various issues. For instance, athletic activities can be used as a means to bridge the distance between two sides, the president added, saying that this is permitted as a form of diplomatic work and that people should not blow things out of perspective. President Ma said that in fact, based on his experience on this journey, while he didn't have a chance to engage in "sports diplomacy" in Burkina Faso, the leaders from The Gambia and Kingdom of Swaziland both are sports enthusiasts and have been willing to engage in athletic and friendly competitions to boost the emotional bond between the two countries. The president said that the activities in which he and his counterparts participated helped to significantly bring the two sides closer, and that this undoubtedly facilitates our diplomatic work. A part of international relations, he said, is interpersonal relations. One has to spend time nurturing those ties, and take advantage of any opportunity to quickly forge them, he said, otherwise the chance to build those relations could slip through one's hands.

The president said that this visit to three of the ROC's allies in Africa has been quite positive from a local perspective in these countries. For instance, the ROC has promoted health care, agriculture, and the "Light for Africa" project in Burkina Faso, while providing assistance in response to what could be a potential famine. In The Gambia, the president said, the ROC donated patrol boats to help ensure that nation's security at sea. Meanwhile, the ROC and The Gambia will continue to promote agricultural technical and medical cooperation, he said, adding that the ROC has also donated CAT scan and MRI equipment that is helping to save lives in that nation. President Ma said that he also just visited RFM Hospital and during his visit patients told him that if it weren't for the assistance of the ROC, they might no longer be alive. The president said that these words highlighted to him the extreme importance of this work, and show that our efforts have yielded results. President Ma said that, broadly speaking, this trip to Africa has been extremely fruitful. He furthermore remarked that if the opportunity affords itself in the future, the ROC should further work to solidify alliances with its diplomatic partners and expand contacts in countries with which it doesn't have diplomatic ties.
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