Taiwan, China and the Coronavirus

Taiwan, China and the Coronavirus

One treats it decisively, the other treats it ideologically.

Don Feder

Taiwan is 81 miles from China. There were 60,000 direct flights between the two nations last year, carrying over 10 million passengers.

As of March 16, the People’s Republic of China, where the coronavirus originated, had more than 80,880 diagnosed cases and close to 3,213 deaths. The Republic of China on Taiwan had 67 cases and one death.

Taiwan has treated the pandemic decisively. China has treated it ideologically, as one would expect from a totalitarian state.

On December 31st, China told the World Health Organization that it had several cases of pneumonia. On the same day, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control began monitoring passengers who arrived from Wuhan. (The 2003 SARS epidemic made it skeptical of health data from China). Taiwan screened these passengers for 36 viruses. On January 26, it banned flights from Wuhan, making it the first country to do so.

Taiwan instituted 124 safety protocols for the virus. It distributed 6.5 million masks to primary and secondary schools, along with 84,000 liters of hand sanitizer and 25,000 forehead thermometers. Public and private buildings screened entrants for signs of fever. Apartment buildings have hand sanitizers in or near elevators.

After China finally admitted that it had a problem, it took another month for researchers from other countries to get in.

On December 30, a physician in Wuhan, Dr. Li Wenliang, and several of his colleagues did an online posting warning of the emergence of a SARS-like illness. They were arrested by local security police on charges of “spreading rumors” and forced to sign a document disavowing their earlier statements. Such is the nature of transparency in a communist state. 

Dr. Li has since died of the coronavirus.

While China has been ineffective at combating the coronavirus within its borders, it has been highly successful at isolating Taiwan – keeping it out of international agencies where its expertise might make a difference, and where the citizens of Taiwan would benefit from international cooperation.

Beijing continues to block Taiwan from membership in the World Health Organization and WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (hardly an anti-communist) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have called for Taiwan’s admission to WHO.

Thanks to China, Taiwan has not been allowed to attend either of the WHO emergency meetings on the coronavirus.  It also won’t permit Taiwan to receive updated information from the International Civil Aviation Organization, thus excluding a nation with one of the world’s busiest international travel hubs.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has become a cheerleader for Beijing. He has praised China’s handling of the crisis, even when the country was denying human to human transmissibility of the virus and arresting physicians for “spreading rumors.”

China’s eagerness to isolate Taiwan is driven by its deluded belief that the island, which the People’s Republic has never ruled for even a single day, is part of its territory. It’s also managed to keep Taiwan out of the United Nations (and even blocked observer status). Its athletes are only allowed to participate in the Olympic games as “Chinese Taipei.”

Perhaps Washington, which contributes 22% of WHO’s budget (compared to China’s 12%), could get Ghebreyesus and company to take a more realistic perspective on Taiwan’s involvement in the international effort to combat the coronavirus.

The Olympics make great spectacle.  But the 100-meter dash is not a matter of life and death.