Friday, September 18, 2009

Russians Not Forced to Detour during 9/21 Earthquake


Russian Search and Rescue Team on a Mission in 2008

China Desk: During the 9/21 Earthquake of 1999, Taiwan independence propagandists disseminated a Big Lie. They alleged that Russian rescue workers were forced to detour around mainland Chinese airspace, delaying their arrival on Taiwan, possibly costing human lives. This allegation was a flagrant lie.

Below is a letter from Julian Clegg to the Taipei Times refuting this urban legend, which stubbornly persists even though it was discredited a decade ago.

The Moscow correspondent for the China Times who refuted this urban legend, was Arkady Borisov. His name in Chinese is 包理述 (Bao Lishu).

The Chief Coordinator of the Russian Emergency Assistance Team (Emercom) when the 9/21 Earthquake struck, was Vladimir Boreiko. His name is also Latinised as Boreyko and is given in the China Times article as 博雷科 (Boleike).

Media Myth Lives On:
Russians Not Forced to Detour during 9/21 Earthquake
by Julian Clegg, Taipei
September 18, 2009


http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2009/09/18/2003453864

Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the 921 Earthquake of 1999. Members of rescue teams who came to Taiwan’s aid after the quake have been invited to attend a series of commemorative events this week.

On Sept. 25, 1999, four days after the earthquake, the Taipei Times ran an article entitled “Taipei accuses China of exploiting quake.” The newspaper followed the government and Chinese-language media in reporting “a Russian earthquake relief mission en route to Taiwan was forced to make a lengthy detour over Siberia because [mainland] China refused to allow the Russian plane carrying the team to pass through its airspace.”

On April 1 this year, the Taipei Times reported that “a group of Russian search and rescue workers that helped local teams during the 921 Earthquake in 1999 will come to Taiwan this September to take part in an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the quake ... At the time, Russia dispatched a group of 83 professional search-and-rescue personnel to help in the search for survivors. Because of [mainland] China’s refusal to allow Russian planes to fly through its airspace, the help was delayed for 12 hours.”

I must point out that this accusation, though widely believed by people in Taiwan, is untrue.

When the accusation first appeared in the media, I felt doubtful for three reasons. First, different media disagreed widely about the length of the delay. Second, according to my understanding of relations between Russia, [mainland] China and Taiwan, I thought it unlikely that [mainland] China would refuse such a request. Third, the source of the report was said to be a Russian-language newspaper Segodnya (Today). I found this odd because it is very rare for Taiwanese media to report stories from the Russian media, especially when the original article is in Russian.

Out of curiosity, I visited the Russian trade office on Xinyi Road to ask whether the reports were true. The Russian trade representative and other staff said they had not heard of it.

The Russian representative said: “Not everything you read in the newspapers is always true.”

He explained that he had played a key role in facilitating the rescue mission. He assured me that the Russian team had never requested to fly through [mainland] Chinese air space, since the quickest and most efficient way for them to come here was to follow their established domestic route from Moscow to the Russian Far East, and from there across the sea to Taiwan.

He said the route from Russia to Taiwan was registered with international aviation authorities, although it was not in commercial use. It had only been used once before, for a private flight to Taiwan by Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (who visited Taiwan from Oct. 18 to Oct. 22, 1998.)

The trade representative said [mainland] China could not have refused permission for the Russian plane to fly over [mainland] China, because the Russians never made any such request.

Following those reports in 1999, however, Taiwanese politicians, including then foreign minister Jason Hu (胡志強) and then Taoyuan County commissioner Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), publicly condemned [mainland] China for its supposed callousness in delaying the Russian rescue mission,.

The incident was cited as a pretext for refusing material aid, such as tents, prefabricated houses and so on, from [mainland] China, and turning down Beijing’s offer to send a medical team, although a cash donation from [mainland] China was accepted. Incidentally, Taiwan also refused aid offered by the Philippines.

After leaving the Russian trade office, I told what I had heard to Time magazine’s Taiwan correspondent Donald Shapiro, and called in to Li Ao’s (李敖) television call-in program and another call-in program on radio.

On Oct. 1, 1999, Taiwan’s representative office in Moscow invited members of the rescue team, who had just returned to Russia, to dinner.

Arkady Borisov, Moscow correspondent of the China Times, asked the rescue team whether it was true that they had been refused passage through [mainland] Chinese airspace. Team leader Vladimir Boreiko replied that it was not true, and proceeded to give the same account that the Russian representative in Taipei gave to me. This report appeared in the China Times on Oct. 3, 1999, and is still available online.

These are the facts of the matter as far as I know. Anyone who is still in doubt will have a chance to ask the Russian rescue team members during their visit to Taiwan this week.

JULIAN CLEGG
Taipei

China Desk: below is the China Times article mentioned in Julian Clegg's letter. This China Times article, submitted by Russian reporter Arkady Borisov, refuted this Taiwan independence Big Lie back in 1999, less than two weeks after the quake struck.

俄救難隊:救人第一是我們唯一信念
中時電子報
1999.10.03


http://forums.chinatimes.com.tw/report/921_quake/88100334.htm

【本報駐莫斯科特派記者包理述特稿】台灣九二一大地震發生之後,俄國緊急事務部自然災難預測中心立即向部長紹伊古提交報告,估計死亡人數為二萬人。經總理普丁的許可,紹伊古下令派遣救難專機到台灣。對俄國來說,此次迅速主動反應,是空前的對台灣友好行動。俄羅斯各界人士也紛紛致電致函給北莫協辦事處表示慰問,俄國媒體也非常關注,大幅報導台灣災情。這次「九二一震災」在一定的程度上顯示,俄國政府及民間對台灣的態度比以前不一樣了,兩國實質關係已有所提升。

十月一日北莫協莫斯科辦事處特別宴請剛從台灣返國的俄羅斯救難隊員,以對救災勇士表示敬佩與感謝之意。救難隊員宴中對新聞界也透露了一些有意思的細節,及對台灣地震的觀感。

針對有報導說「中共不允許俄羅斯救援團飛越中共領空,延誤了救援團體來台進行救難工作的時效」,俄國救難隊副隊長博雷科說,這是報導無中生有。根據規定,俄國救難隊收到通知之後,卅分鐘內應該出發赴災區。當時,俄國專機根本也不打算利用中國大陸的「空中走廊」,一開始要飛莫斯科-新西伯利亞-海參崴-日本領空-台灣的航線;救難隊是因等台灣方面同意等了好久,因此才耽誤了時間。不過,這是完全正常的,因為災情存在一定程度的不可預見性,政府需要時間來了解情況,然後才決定需不需要國際援助。上次俄國救難隊要赴土耳其救災,也差不多等了這麼多時間。

赴台灣救難隊員剛參加過土耳其大地震和莫斯科公寓爆炸搶救工作,精神上已疲累不堪,從莫斯科出發飛了十八個小時,抵台一下飛機後,就不眠不休的投入救災。他們說:「我們唯一的信念就是救人第一。」但他們對這次台灣救災工作不是很滿意,因為沒有救出任何生還者。

俄國隊被分派到倒塌的東勢鎮地標「王朝大樓」是有如廢墟一般,專家認定大樓內沒有生命跡象,但考慮到「道德因素」及受難者家屬的情緒,仍夜以繼日的繼續進行搜救。

一些救難隊員對台灣建築的堅固印象深刻,增加搜救的困難度。他們說,一開始在王朝大樓發現了二名罹難者屍體壓在亂石堆中,但是經過二十小時才能夠排除障礙物,順利挖出。

這些俄羅斯救難隊員都說:「台灣人都以非常溫暖的情緒對待我們」,對此印象極佳。博雷科先生特別向多日陪同他們的外交部工作人員蔣嘉一、徐瑞文等表示感謝。為了幫忙翻譯,他們經常隨同搜救人員進入傾倒的大樓內,俄文翻譯徐小姐每天只睡一個小時。

俄國救難隊隊長普拉特先生說,台灣官方已請求俄羅斯專家協助訓練中華搜救隊隊員,並已獲得緊急事務部長紹伊古的同意。

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting my letter, Bevin. I hope it will set the record straight at last. For those who can read Chinese, the China Times report of 3 October 1999 is archived here: http://forums.chinatimes.com.tw/report/921_quake/88100334.htm

    Reporter Arkady Borisov's Chinese name is 包理述 (Bao Lishu). Vladimir Boreiko's name may also be Latinised as Boreyko and is given in the China Times article as 博雷科 (Boleike). He is the former Chief Coordinator of the Russian Emergency Assistance Team (Emercom).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Julian,

    Not at all. Thank you for taking the initiative to set matters straight.

    It is simply astounding how resilient some lies can be. They are like cockroaches. Try as one might, one just can't flush them down the toilet.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It goes to show how extreme some people can be. The truth shall prevail. Thanks for this piece, Bevin

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Taikor,

    The credit actually goes to Julian, but thanks anyway!

    Bevin

    ReplyDelete