Tsai’s handling of Wuhan coronavirus crisis has secured her legacy

President Tsai has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in fortune and could be one of Taiwan’s finest heads of state.

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(Wikimedia Commons photo)

Kaohsiung (Taiwan News) – The global outbreak of Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) has had seismic political implications as well as massive implications for public health and individual liberties.

National leaders have been thrown into the deep end and essentially left to either sink or swim as they seek to manage a crisis that no one has any prior experience with. Some have fared far better than others.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s high-profile personal battle with Wuhan coronavirus, including a stint in the ICU, has seen his approval rating soar to new highs with much of the country joined in a round-of-applause for him at the darkest moment of his fight against the virus.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has not fared so well. His daily press conferences have been a source of confusion rather than clarity and his ever-shifting positions on lockdowns, treatments and cures have left even his staunchest supporters questioning his handling of the situation.

Perhaps the only saving grace for Trump has been his willingness to speak frankly and openly about communist China’s role in unleashing Wuhan coronavirus on the world. His vocal condemnation has been welcome at a time when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is moving heaven and earth to try and wipe their culpability for this crisis from the history books.

His decision earlier this week to defund the World Health Organization (WHO) was particularly impressive given the health agency's fawning on the CCP regarding coronavirus developments and catastrophic failures that have allowed the crisis to escalate into a pandemic.

The WHO isn’t the only international body that has failed to have any meaningful impact on the current crisis. The UN has been utterly absent from proceedings and astonishingly only held its first discussion on the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic last week.

The irrelevance of other regional political bodies, most notably the EU, has also been revealed as national governments have rightly taken the lead on handling the crisis.

Tsai’s leads the way

As Taiwan News reported earlier this week, Forbes magazine recently published a very perceptive article noting that the countries that seemed to be handling the crisis best tended to be those with female heads of state.

Front and center of their article was the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). And rightly so, because Tsai has led Taiwan through this crisis masterfully so far and her handling of the various complexities of the situation has surely secured her legacy as one of Taiwan’s best-ever heads of state.

Firstly, there were her swift actions, and those of her administration, to contain the outbreak of Wuhan coronavirus. This has been more successful than almost any other country and is rooted in her inherent distrust of the CCP’s early claims about the virus, which were also being parroted by the WHO and accepted by most other nations.

Her skepticism proved shrewd and meant that Taiwan shut borders early, succeeded in preventing a widespread outbreak, and has undoubtedly saved many lives as a result.

This early response gave the Taiwanese authorities time to establish a system to contact trace those cases that did make it into Taiwan and prepare the health system here for a possible second wave. This has been predicted by many experts at some point, but no country is more prepared for it than Taiwan and recent data suggests it is not imminent.

Then there is her unbelievably classy handling of the WHO situation. Not only has Taiwan been shut out of all important international discussions about the virus pandemic, but their early warnings about human-to-human transmission were completely ignored by the WHO.

Its discredited director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, even had the audacity to accuse Taiwanese criticism of him to be racist!

Tsai’s response was class and leadership personified. She dismissed claims of racism saying that Taiwan opposes all forms of discrimination and then invited the Director-General to Taiwan to experience a Taiwanese welcome and see the country’s efforts to combat Wuhan coronavirus for himself.

It will have come as no surprise that the WHO failed to respond to her comments. Presumably, Beijing is still drafting what the organization should say.

At the same time, Tsai has also orchestrated a most remarkable diplomatic resurgence. Her shrewd soft power diplomacy has enabled Taiwan to make huge international strides over the past few weeks and almost turn this dreadful situation into a positive one.

China has failed to cover up its role in creating the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and its crude attempts to position itself as the hero through faking data to suggest they have the virus under control. It has even been caught shipping substandard PPE and other supplies to other countries. Meanwhile, Taiwan has been quietly and systematically building support and allies around the world.

Face masks and other PPE have been gifted to the U.S., UK, and other EU countries, as well as Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, and have elicited thanks from various political leaders and congratulations for Taiwan’s handling of the virus.

The WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan has been highlighted, sparking an international effort to get Taiwan a seat at the table for future WHO discussions. Alongside this, a number of countries have seen growing calls from both politicians and the public for a rethink in relations with China and Taiwan.

The result is that Taiwan is now better placed than it has ever been to secure greater international recognition and an enhanced role in the world. And this is all thanks to the leadership of Tsai Ing-wen.

A gargantuan turnaround

It is a remarkable turnaround for her. Rewind one year and things were very different.

This time last year Tsai was desperately trying to patch up a divided party and facing up to the very real prospect of electoral defeat at the hands of a populist pro-Chinese opponent in Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜). I shudder to think how much worse off Taiwan would have been if Han had won the presidential election just two months ago.

Today, Han finds himself on the verge of political oblivion as he could shortly lose the mayorship of Kaohsiung in an unprecedented recall vote.

Meanwhile, Tsai has succeeded in uniting her party and storming to victory in January’s elections. Her management of the Wuhan coronavirus crisis has saved the lives of many Taiwanese people and also enabled her to take full diplomatic advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime situation to improve Taiwan's standing in the world.

She has played an absolute blinder and looks set to secure a legacy as one of Taiwan's finest and most successful political leaders. Full credit must go out to her and her team for achieving something which just a year ago looked all but impossible.