Taiwanese citizens and their government are sending donations to war-torn Ukraine as a show of extra sympathy, analysts say. They argue that many on the Asian Pacific island fear they could become the next place to be targeted by a major military power.
China claims the island as part of its territory and has not renounced use of force, if needed, to bring it under the Chinese flag. Most Taiwanese oppose any formal unification with China. Their dispute goes back to the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to Communists and rebased in Taiwan.
Since mid-2020, the more militarily powerful China has flown air force planes almost daily over a corner of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Taiwan has followed up with orders for modern weaponry, both built onshore and sourced from the United States.
“To be attacked this way and through rather unfair means makes people feel a sense of compassion and empathy (toward Ukraine). So, Taiwanese are quite willing to donate aid,” said Ku Chung-hua, a standing board member in Taipei with the advocacy group Citizens’ Congress Watch.
On February 28, the Taiwan government sent 27 tons of medical supplies to Ukraine.
As of March 7, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan had massed donations of $10.5 million through a special account. A Taiwan government office in Poland and Poland’s reciprocal office in Taipei will coordinate delivery of the funds to a refugee agency approved by the Polish government, the ministry says.
Some 1,730 Taiwanese donors have, so far, marshaled cookies, blankets, masks, diapers and feminine hygiene products for Ukrainian war refugees, the ministry in Taipei said on its website. The ministry is taking in-kind donations through March 18.
Taiwan’s super-wealthy, church groups and overseas advocacy organizations have collected additional donations, according to the island’s media outlets as well as individual donors.
Joanna Lei, CEO of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan, donated through her Taipei-based Protestant church, which happens to follow humanitarian causes. She said the church decided on day three of the Ukraine invasion to donate several million Taiwan dollars. Taiwanese have a record of donating to humanitarian causes, Lei said. Among them were the March 2011 tsunami in Japan and the 2008 earthquake in southwestern China.
Some Taiwanese have kicked in support because of “so many discussions in the international media about Ukraine today and Taiwan tomorrow,” she added. “If we say solidarity, it makes Russia and China allies,” Lei said. “It’s not solidarity, but humanitarian concerns.”
Taiwan political activist Koo Kwang-ming donated $1 million to humanitarian relief, Taiwan-based Liberty Times said. He told the Chinese-language news outlet that Russia had attacked without a “legitimate reason.”
Among the vibrant Taiwanese population of Los Angeles, four advocacy groups are recruiting donations. Ken Wu, vice president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, pitched in $100 on February 26 and is considering whether to make another donation. Taiwanese donors throughout North America interpret Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as being “about the free world versus China and Russia,” he said.
“Now the Taiwanese people, I think, they have moved beyond the fright of China,” said Wu, whose organization lobbies Congress to take pro-Taiwan action.
“They’re feeling a bit more confident that if they stand behind Ukraine now and save Ukraine, they will be able to stop the aggression once and for all,” he said. “This is a really good lesson for the Chinese to see the cost of an aggressor.”
Ukrainian and Russian delegations opened their fourth round of peace talks Monday after Russia ordered a deadly missile attack on a western Ukraine military base 25 kilometers from NATO-member Poland. At least 35 people were killed and 134 were hurt.
“No doubt people in Taiwan feel a special sympathy for Ukrainians, whose situation has many similarities with that of Taiwan’s people,” said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center think tank in Honolulu. “In the background, Taiwan also wants to show that it did what it could to help another invaded people free, in case Taiwan ever finds itself similarly pleading for the international community’s help against an aggressor.”
Taiwanese are backing Ukraine now for the same reasons they sympathized with Hong Kong during the Chinese territory’s 2019 anti-government protests, Ku said. He said they wanted then to protect freedoms that they enjoy in Taiwan and felt were under fire in Hong Kong.
Hardly anyone in Taiwan backs Russia and many Taiwanese feel respect for Ukrainians for fighting back against Moscow’s forces, Ku said. “They feel Ukrainians’ courage is respectable and of value,” he said.
China has rejected parallels between its intentions for Taiwan and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a news conference earlier this month that the situations are “not at all comparable” because Taiwan is a “domestic matter,” according to the state-run China Daily news website.