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Foreign Aid Arrives in Taiwan as President Faces Political Storm


Taiwan officials say the United States is sending at least two large heavy-lift helicopters to Taiwan and relief supplies to help with the recovery effort following Typhoon Morakot. The arrival of foreign aid from the U.S. and other countries comes as Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou is facing a growing political storm over his handling of the recovery effort.

On Sunday, a C-130 American transport plane carrying nearly 7,000 kilograms of materials for makeshift housing touched down at Taiwan's southern Tainan Air Base.

Shipments from Australia have also arrived, along with a rescue team from South Korea. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry says more than 59 countries have offered aid to the island.

Taiwan media have been giving the arrival of the C-130 U.S. military plane and expected arrival of two large helicopters extra special coverage.

Media and defense sources note that the arrival of the U.S. military's humanitarian mission is a first for the island since the U.S. broke off ties with Taipei in 1979 and switched recognition to Beijing.

Beijing typically loudly protests such contacts between the U.S. and the island's military, because it claims the self-ruled island is part of its own territory.

Emile Sheng, a political science professor at Taiwan's Soochow University, says such protest is unlikely this time, given the recent improvement of relations between Taiwan and China.

"Maybe just two years ago, if the U.S. had done something like this, then it was going to generate protest from China," said Sheng. "But, I think the main point is that China is probably open to this action, and also, due to the humanitarian considerations."

Since President Ma Ying-jeou stepped in to office last year in May, economic ties between Taiwan and China have been improving, with the opening of direct cargo shipments and flights between the two sides.

Defense officials say the heavy-lift helicopters, which are expected to arrive in the next two days, are capable of airlifting backhoes and bulldozers. The helicopters could help speed reconstruction work in remote mountainous areas, many of which are cut off because of collapsed bridges and roads.

President Ma says the death toll from the storm is likely to reach more than 500 people. One week after the typhoon hit, thousands of displaced survivors remain at temporary shelters in stadiums and tent cities. More than 4,000 people are still stranded in the mountains.

Survivors and Taiwan's opposition party have accused President Ma of reacting too slowly to the storm, the island's worst in five decades. Earlier this week, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry was saying it did not need any foreign aid.

Several days later, aid - such as that being offered by the U.S. - began pouring in.

Professor Sheng says the president is facing a political crisis that will definitely erode his once strong public support.

"When the television is broadcasting this disaster 24 hours a day, it, of course, created a lot of emotions among the public," said Sheng.

Sheng says that the government's lack of immediate response and the president's remarks in the wake of the typhoon have further fed growing anger.

Over the past two days, Mr. Ma has apologized several times over the government's failure to see the magnitude of the crisis in time.

Political analysts say that what Mr. Ma needs now is a quick and decisive reconstruction and recovery plan.

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