Taiwan's coronavirus response can propel nation forward

Taiwan well placed to replace China as reliable world partner Beijing failed to be

President Tsai Ing-wen (Presidential Office photo)

President Tsai Ing-wen (Presidential Office photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) has been a worldwide disaster that began in China but was beaten in Taiwan, prompting a reevaluation of the two countries in the international community.

China was hit by the epidemic in early January, and despite lying about the nature of the virus and suppressing whistleblowers, it was eventually able to flatten the curve through lockdowns across the country.

Not taking any chances, Taiwan began conducting temperature checks, implemented face mask policies, and increased mask production to minimize the spread of the virus. This was done even before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an emergency.

As the two countries have now recovered from the worst of the pandemic, they have attempted to make the most of the situation by demonstrating their goodwill and exporting medical supplies to countries in need. There has been a striking difference between Taiwan and China’s endeavors.

Changing the narrative

Even though it is accepted by nearly everyone that COVID-19 began in China, Beijing has used medical donations to try to change the narrative of the virus' origins and to brand itself as a savior of the world. China hoped countries that accepted these donations would be grateful and forget about where the virus had come from and the opaque reaction of its medical authorities.

This strategy might have worked if it hadn’t been for the faulty and substandard medical supplies that were shipped around the world.

China claims to have donated many boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE) to other countries, including the U.K., Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Turkey — which have all complained the supplies were of substandard quality. Additionally, Syria criticized the disappointing scale of its donation after receiving just two boxes of masks.

It quickly became clear that Chinese medical products could not be trusted, which was counterproductive to Beijing’s grand PR strategy. The East Asian country's egregious behavior destroyed all credibility in its attempts to portray itself as a neighborly ally.

Despite facing widespread criticism, China still found time to threaten Taiwan and express its disapproval as the island nation went ahead and enhanced its relations with the world.

Calls for China probe

When the Netherlands' de facto embassy in Taipei changed its name last month from the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office to the Netherlands Taipei Office, China threatened to halt shipments of medical supplies to the nation.

Beijing also issued a stern warning to Paris after France agreed to sell Taiwan upgrades for its ship missile systems. In response, the French foreign ministry stated: “Facing the COVID-19 crisis, all our attention and efforts should be focused on battling the pandemic.”

China has been uncooperative from the beginning of this pandemic. Now that the true nature of the disease is slowly being revealed, Beijing is trying to promote its own version of events and shifting blame by accusing the U.S. of spreading the virus.

None of its tactics have worked, however, as currently, 100 countries are calling for a probe into China’s handling of the coronavirus. Beijing’s only ally in this crisis has been the WHO, which has only further sidelined China, as the organization has been roundly criticized for its pandemic response and for kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Commending Taiwan

Meanwhile, Taiwan has successfully shipped PPE to the U.S., Europe, and Southeast Asia. White House staff have even been pictured wearing face masks from Taiwan.

The island nation has striven for transparency this whole time, holding daily press coronavirus conferences and sharing its epidemic strategy. Furthermore, the nation has demonstrated that an effective virus response does not need to be authoritarian, contrary to what China wants the world to believe.

Taiwan has proven to the world that it is a reliable and compassionate ally, and many countries have responded in kind by supporting it at the World Health Assembly (WHA), including the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.

As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) begins her second term, she must be as decisive and prudent as she was during the height of the nation’s coronavirus response. With countries losing respect for and trust in Beijing, Taiwan must act quickly to fill the void.

Seize the moment

Some academics and experts are recommending that Taiwan seize the moment, as the world seeks to partially decouple from China. Ray Yang (楊瑞臨), director at the ITRI’s Industry, Science and Technology International Strategy Center (ISTI), suggests the ability of Taiwanese manufacturers to respond to the virus quickly and flexibly indicates the country is emerging as a valuable partner for the U.S., Europe, and others.

Srikanth Kondapalli, an Indian sinologist and political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes Taiwan should enhance bilateral relations with India by linking its New Southbound Policy with the South Asian country’s Look East policy.

The island nation needs to continue the momentum gained from the pandemic and intensify its efforts by inking agreements and initiating cooperative projects with other nations in a number of industries and fields. Given Taiwan’s stellar performance during the pandemic, the world will likely be willing to work with Taipei and take relations with the nation to a higher level than before.

The challenge of how Taiwan will adapt to a post-virus world and the "new normal" lies squarely on President Tsai’s shoulders. If she is able to convert the nation’s pandemic publicity into something more substantial, then Taiwan will surely have a bright future ahead.