For all its horrendous implications, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought Taiwan the rare opportunity to gain widespread acknowledgment and respect around the globe for its accomplishments.
Few major news organizations maintain full-scale bureaus on the island, and Taiwan normally receives only occasional attention from the international media. But the scourge of COVID-19 thrust Taiwan into the spotlight, as report after report praised the Taiwanese authorities for their prompt and efficient response to the sudden, severe threat to public health.
“The government of Taiwan was among the quickest to recognize and counteract the potential dangers of the coronavirus,” said Fortune magazine. The Guardian cited Taiwan’s adoption of such effective measures as “social distancing, ramped-up testing and contact-tracing.” Similar reports were circulated by the New York Times, Bloomberg, CNN, Deutsche Welle, and a host of other media outlets. The Brookings Institution, the prominent Washington, D.C. think tank, posted an article on its website outlining how Taiwan stayed ahead of the curve in combating COVID-19.
Even some unlikely social influencers called attention to Taiwan’s laudable performance. Ricky Martin, known as the “King of Latin Pop,” tweeted “Muy bien #Taiwán.” In an essay for Time magazine, former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen discussed what the world community could learn from the techniques that Taiwan employed.
Many of the reports credited Taiwan’s open and democratic political system as being a major factor in the positive outcome. The government of President Tsai Ing-wen kept the public well-informed about the difficult challenges posed by the health crisis and the steps being taken to bring it under control. The credibility generated by that transparency encouraged broad compliance with the hand-washing, mask-wearing, social-distancing, and other measures being called for by the authorities.
The unaccustomed attention and acclaim directed at Taiwan – especially when inevitably contrasted to the distressing news coming from so many other parts of the world – has aroused a greater sense of confidence and pride than Taiwanese have felt in many years.
The situation has also stirred increased resentment at home and abroad over Taiwan’s exclusion from participation in the World Health Organization due to Beijing’s objections. It is patently absurd, especially amid a pandemic, to disregard any area of the world, let alone one that has proven its competence and dedication in matters of public health.
In sharp contrast, the U.S. last month entered into a cooperation agreement with Taiwan to share best practices in fighting what was pointedly referred to as the “Wuhan virus.” In addition, the U.S. pledged to supply Taiwan with the materials needed to produce 300,000 protective suits, while Taiwan agreed to ship 100,000 facemasks per week to the U.S. after its supply has stabilized.
The international admiration and good will that Taiwan is generating could have lasting consequences long after COVID-19 has been tamed. Once the crisis is over, AmCham Taipei encourages Taiwan’s supporters in the U.S. to press even harder for the start of negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement. At the same time, the Chamber urges Taiwan’s friends around the world to become even more vocal about the injustice of barring the representatives of 23 million people from engagement with international organizations responsible for public health and safety.