On August 8, 2023, a wind-whipped wildfire erupted on the island of Maui in Hawai’i. This was the third worst wildfire in America. As of this article’s publishing date, at least 115 have been confirmed dead with about 400 people unaccounted for, and an estimated 2,500 acres of land has been destroyed.
The town of Lahaina was hit the hardest by the fires. Thousands of residents have been displaced, exacerbating Hawai’i’s homelessness problem. It is estimated that the fires caused at least $4 billion in economic damages. It will cost about $5.5 billion to rebuild the island of Maui.
In these tragic circumstances, many countries in Asia have offered to help, pledging financial support and assistance.
South Korea (Republic of Korea):
The government of South Korea has pledged $2 million in humanitarian assistance and emergency relief supplies to Hawai’i following the Maui wildfires. This comes as 2023 marks the 120th anniversary of Korean immigration to the United States, with Hawai’i being the place where Korean immigrants first began to arrive in 1903. South Korea and Hawai’i have had sister-state relations since 1986, partnering with Jeju Island, also famous for being a tourism hotspot.
On August 16, 2023, Lee Seo Young, the Consul-General of the Republic of Korea to Honolulu, delivered the Korean government’s emergency supplies to Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke, which included relief items such as bottled water, food, blankets, and generators. Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke wrote that “this kind of offer is another sign of the strong ties that exist between the United States and South Korea and an acknowledgment of the 120 years of history between the ROK and Hawai’i”.
The government of Japan has likewise pledged to give $2 million in humanitarian aid to assist with relief and recovery measures for the victims of the Maui fires. The assistance will be channeled through the American Red Cross and Japan Platform (a Japanese NGO) and is expected to be used for disaster relief efforts based on local needs, including but not limited to evacuation to safe areas, distribution of food, and emotional/psychological support for the victims.
Japan and Hawai’i have also had sister-state relations since 1981 and Hawai’i currently has partnerships with six different Japanese prefectures. These Japanese prefectures are Fukuoka, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Ehime, Hokkaido, and Yamaguchi.
Taiwan (Republic of China):
The government of Taiwan has similarly pledged to give $500,000 to assist with relief and reconstruction for the local government and the victims of the Maui fires. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Taiwan and Hawai’i's sister-state relationship, demonstrating the strong people-to-people and cultural ties. Through communication between the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Honolulu and the Hawaiian State Government, Taiwan will donate to the Maui Strong Fund to facilitate and ensure that the funds can be directly distributed to those affected by the fires.
The governments of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have all expressed their hope for Hawai’i to rebuild and return to daily life as swiftly as possible and have reiterated their deep and staunch relationship with the state of Hawai’i and the United States through their generosity and concern.
Natasha Yotmanee is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a student at the College of William & Mary, studying International Relations.