Feeling proud of Taiwan while facing the many challenges ahead

I have never felt prouder of Taiwan. The way the country – both the people and government – have dealt with the ongoing coronavirus crisis has been incredibly impressive. The public has been relatively calm and brave. The officials have been transparent, proactive, and professional. Indeed, so far Taiwan’s response to the outbreak has been one of the best models for the rest of the world as the deadly illness spreads across the globe.

I must admit that I’m also deeply worried. There are still many unknowable unknowns. Containing a tricky virus that so quickly transmits from person to person is a massive challenge.  A lot can go wrong and is beyond our control. It’s much too early for celebrating. Just look at what happened in South Korea, which appeared to be doing such a good job fighting COVID-19. I shudder to think that I might wake up tomorrow morning to the news that the situation has gone terribly sideways in Taiwan. We all feel deeply uneasy everytime we check for updates. 

But I have a tremendous amount of faith and confidence in Taiwan. Having the privilege to sit in on our exclusive interview (featured in this issue) with Vice President Chen Chien-jen, also a top-notch epidemiologist, left me feeling that we’re in good hands. I’m sure all the leaders of the world would love to have him at their sides during this crisis. Also reassuring is the tireless dedication and hard work by the team led by Chen Shih-chung, Minister of Health and Welfare.

I do believe that some of the worst damage can be done by fear, panic, and anxiety – not by the virus itself. Being careful and taking the right precautions is important. There’s no disputing that. But we also need to be calm and rational. We can’t let fear get the best of us. That’s why at AmCham Taipei, we continue to hold small- and medium-sized events. We believe it’s important to do our best to carry on, conduct business and live normal lives, while doing everything possible to be safe. I’ve been thrilled to see that turnout at our events has been great.

The final emotion I’ll describe in this column is outrage. Frankly, it’s appalling that petty politics keep Taiwan from collaborating with the World Health Organization at a time when the country has so much to offer and gain. Our editorial in this issue covers this issue well, so there’s no need to say much more. But it was reassuring to see Taiwan’s many friends in the U.S. Congress tweeting and issuing statements about this ridiculous attempt to isolate Taiwan.

Unfortunately, these slights will likely continue. For now, the best response is for Taiwanese to shrug off the small-minded insults. Don’t get discouraged. Continue strengthening your civil society and institutions. Keep showcasing your competencies and sharing your best practices with the world. That’s how Taiwan will win this marathon.

If Taiwan can hold the line and contain the coronavirus outbreak, it won’t just be a public health victory. It will also be a huge win for Team Democracy – an important lesson for those who envy the perceived efficiency of authoritarian regimes. It will show that a free and open society – though sometimes noisy and gridlocked – can operate at a high-level of competency to fend off a deadly, economy-crushing threat. I’m still cautiously optimistic Taiwan can pull it off.