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Haiti aid a telling test of China-Taiwan relations

BEIJING — One of the world's trickiest relationships is being tested in devastated Haiti, where China and Taiwan are rushing aid to one of Taipei's few remaining diplomatic allies. Taiwan even announced that its president would personally deliver earthquake aid later this month.

Since the two sides split amid civil war six decades ago, China has used aid to try to persuade countries to cut relations with Taiwan and weaken the self-governing island's claim to independence. Meanwhile, Taiwan has used financial support to try to keep the few small, mostly impoverished nations that recognize it.

But while the aid to Haiti comes with large Chinese flags on display, analysts say it has no apparent strings attached, thanks to improved relations between the two sides and China's settling into its role of global power and the responsibilities that come with it.

"What's really interesting here is that China apparently is providing Haiti with assistance without making any demands regarding Haiti's relationship with Taiwan," said Taiwan scholar Shelley Rigger of North Carolina's Davidson College.

A cargo plane left Beijing on Saturday carrying $2 million of China's promised $4.2 million aid package for the quake-hit island, with which it has no diplomatic ties.

State-run Chinese media has devoted pages of coverage to the quake, and China Central Television reported Friday that the Chinese rescue team was the only one working overnight to look for those trapped in the rubble.

Instead of tussling with Taiwan, a newly confident China probably sees the quake as a chance to project its "soft power" to a wider audience, said China expert Steve Tsang of Oxford University. "From Beijing's perspective, it is desirable not to be overshadowed by Taiwan's rescue efforts and relatively easy and inexpensive to play a positive humanitarian role in the, as it were, backyard of the U.S.A."

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is one of just 23 countries that recognize Taiwan. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is expected to land in the neighboring Dominican Republic, another Taiwan supporter, to deliver the Haiti aid sometime between Jan. 25-30. Taiwan has already pledged $5 million.

China has used aid in the past to try and pressure Haiti to break its Taiwan ties, Rigger said. And when they sent United Nations peacekeepers to Haiti in 2004, many assumed part of that mission was to court Haiti to recognize Beijing.

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