Taiwan gains influence as it successfully contains COVID-19

Foreign Affairs

Taiwan is now competing with China in “mask diplomacy,” and is racing to deliver medical assistance to countries around the world that are in the middle of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The Grand Hotel in Taipei marks April 14, a day with zero new cases of COVID-19. Photo via Facebook (in Chinese).

Today, April 14, Taiwan reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the first time in 36 days, Focus Taiwan reports. Taiwan has, in total, reported only 393 infections, with a minority being locally transmitted, and only six deaths.

Early action on testing, tracing, and risk analysis using big data analytics and isolating cases are some of the reasons that Taiwan has been so successful, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Taiwan is also one of a remarkably long list of women-led nations that has found success in combating the coronavirus, feminist author Leta Hong Fincher notes on Twitter.

Taiwan is now competing with China in “mask diplomacy,” and is racing to deliver medical assistance to countries around the world that are in the middle of COVID-19 outbreaks.

As part of an April 9 pledge to deliver 6 million masks to regional countries, 300,000 masks will be donated by Taiwan to the Philippines, Focus Taiwan says. Earlier, on April 1, Taiwan had “pledged to donate 10 million masks to European countries, the United States and diplomatic allies.”

Taiwan is the “second-largest global producer of face masks after China,” Nicole Jao writes in Foreign Policy (porous paywall), and is ramping up its production from 15 million masks a day to 17 million by the end of the month. Although Taiwan initially banned the export of face masks on January 24, during the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak, it relaxed those rules on March 12.

The U.S. is now supporting Taiwan more actively than perhaps ever before. Jao continues:

Already Taipei and Washington have mapped out areas of collaboration, including research and development of tests, vaccines, and medicines. They also expect to exchange expertise, cooperate on medical supplies and equipment, work on contact-tracing techniques and technology, and protective and preventative measures, according to a joint statement by the American Institute in Taiwan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…

Trump signed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act into law on March 26, which sends a clear message of the United States’ support for Taiwan’s standing in the international arena.

Australia is also more strongly supporting Taiwan. The Sydney Morning Herald reports: “Australian politicians from both major parties have called on the World Health Organization to give Taiwan membership, blasting the UN body’s performance in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.”

Taiwanese people have gained confidence from their government’s competent handling of the epidemic, per the Wall Street Journal (paywall):

The pandemic has even emboldened advocates of Taiwanese nationhood. In a March survey commissioned by Taipei’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles policy toward Beijing, 26.7% of respondents said Taiwan should ultimately seek independence while keeping the status quo for now, the highest level ever recorded in polling data released since the mid-1990s, and up from 21.7% in October. Another 9.3% said Taiwan should declare independence as soon as possible, the highest level since 2008 and up from 6% in October.

The government is also projecting confidence, and is sticking by its line, first publicized in the Financial Times on March 19, that it issued an early warning about human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.

  • A screenshot of an email sent from Taiwan to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019, was recently released by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It says that “news resources” have indicated there are “at least seven atypical pneumonia cases” in Wuhan, and that the cases were all “isolated for treatment.”
  • “Public health professionals could discern from this wording that there was a real possibility of human-to-human transmission of the disease,” the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control insisted in a statement.

The World Health Organization disagrees that the warning from Taiwan was clear, though the U.S. State Department has taken Taiwan’s side in this dispute.

—Lucas Niewenhuis