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A comet of cooperation

Earlier this month a newspaper reported a discovery by professional star-gazer Lin Chi-sheng of the Lulin Observatory in Nantou, Taiwan. Lin had discovered Asteroid C/2007-N3 — a massive lump of ice and rock “kilometers” in diameter. On Feb. 27, 2009, the comet is scheduled for a near earth fly-by, getting as close as 60 million kilometers away from our planet and becoming visible to the unaided human eye. The newspaper went on to claim that this discovery was the first such find by local astronomers — and that Taiwan is now “on the map” in the global astronomical community.

We salute Lin Chi-sheng and congratulate the entire team at the Lulin Observatory in the central county of Nantou on the discovery of the “Lulin Comet.” The patience and devotion required for thousands upon thousands of hours of sky-watching — mostly without reward — is highly commendable. But, it would be nice if we gave full credit where credit is due.

Many in Taiwan cheered the news of a local find. The tone of the report and even the headline of the newspaper article were filled with nationalist sentiment, “Local Star-Gazer Discovers Comet,” it declared. But buried a bit toward the back of the report came a surprising detail: the find would not have happened without the aid of Taiwan’s arch-rival mainland China.

Astronomers from China and Taiwan have increased collaboration in recent years. Since many observatories in China do not possess as high-powered telescopes as we have in Taiwan, Chinese astronomers do their part in a deal of cooperation by selecting areas of the sky for the Nantou-based Lulin Observatory to watch and photograph. Lin himself actually told reporters it was Chinese participants who first detected the “Lulin Comet” and a smaller near-earth asteroid (NEA) in the photographs.

The highlight of this story is one of successful collaboration. For once, Taiwan and China set aside their half-century old political dispute and worked together to actually assist humankind. This wonderful story of cooperation, however, was mainly lost in the self-congratulatory tone of the local media.

Instead of trumpeting the help of the Chinese, some local papers buried the China connection at the end of the article and did not include this info in headlines or decks. It would seem disingenuous for the Taiwan reports to label the find as “local” when the reality is that without major Chinese help, the discovery would never have been made.

A mature person working on a problem welcomes all whose ideas contribute to a solution, and upon finding one, dishes out praise accordingly and unstintingly. So should it be with mature nations. As the planet shrinks ever smaller under the effects of globalization, cooperation and collaboration will become the watchwords of the future, not individualism or jingoism. Taiwan’s media should endeavor to praise cooperation and refrain from downplaying the contributions of others.

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