Taiwan Life in Brief and Cross-strait – May 2020

Sailors aboard the returned naval combat support ship Panshih were discovered to be infected with COVID-19 after they were allowed to disembark in mid-April. Photo: Martti Chen

Former Premier Hau Pei-Tsun Dies

Former Premier Hau Pei-tsun passed away at the age of 100 at the end of March. As a young military officer, Hau had fought in the Chinese Civil War, and as an army commander stationed on Kinmen had been in charge of its defenses during a landmark 44-day bombardment of the outlying archipelago by Chinese Communist forces in 1958. He was chief of the general staff for Taiwan’s armed forces from 1981 to 1989, the longest-serving person ever to hold that position. He then served as defense minister in 1989-1990 and premier from 1990 to 1993. His son, Hau Lung-pin, is a ranking Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) official and a former mayor of Taipei.

Former Premier Hau Pei-tsun, who passed away in March, is remembered for his and as an army commander stationed extensive military service and government experience. Photo: Martti Chen

COVID-19 Outbreak on Naval Fleet

In mid-April, an outbreak of COVID-19 was discovered among military personnel aboard a naval combat support ship, one of three Taiwanese warships that had visited Palau, the Pacific island nation that is one of Taiwan’s 15 remaining diplomatic allies, on a goodwill mission. As of press time, 31 people who were aboard the ship had been diagnosed with the illness.

On the ship’s return to Taiwan, more than 700 sailors had been allowed to disembark before the outbreak’s discovery. They were then recalled and placed in quarantine while the authorities sent text messages to more than 200,000 people who might have been in contact with them, asking them to perform self-health management for 14 days. It is still not known how the crew contracted the illness, the first COVID-19 cases to be reported in Taiwan’s military. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Palau.

As of the end of April, a total of over 430 people had contracted COVID-19 in Taiwan since the pandemic began, an excellent showing compared with other countries. The majority of cases were classed as imported rather than local transmissions.

Taiwan 1st to Open Baseball Season

When the Chinatrust Brothers took the field against the Uni-President Lions at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium on April 12, Taiwan became the first place in the world for the 2020 baseball season to open despite the COVID-19 pandemic. But at least for the beginning of the season, the games will be played to empty stadiums, attended only by the players, coaches, umpires, and cheerleaders, in adherence to social distancing rules.

Taiwan’s five-team Chinese Professional Baseball League was originally scheduled to start play several weeks earlier. The 2020 regular season will run until mid-October with a total of 240 games scheduled. Eleven Sports network is streaming home games for one team, the Rakuten Monkeys, live on Twitter with English commentary. Other teams were also looking to offer English-language play-by-play for the benefit of baseball-deprived sports fans in other countries. 

Taiwan’s baseball league was the first in the world to start the 2020 season, although with no spectators in the stands. Photo: Martti Chen

Deadly Fire at Karaoke Club

As of press time, six people had died from injuries in a fire that broke out in a karaoke club in Taipei. The fire broke out at the Linsen North Road branch of Cashbox Partyworld KTV, one of the island’s largest karaoke-parlor chains. At the time of the incident, all five major safety features – an indoor fire hydrant, automatic sprinkler system, automatic fire alarm, emergency broadcasting system, and smoke extraction equipment – had been turned off, investigators said. The cause of the fire, which left more than 50 people hospitalized, has not been officially determined. The KTV chain halted operations at its 17 karaoke parlors across the island and paid families of the victims NT$1 million each in compensation.

HK Bookseller Opens Taipei Shop

A Hong Kong bookseller, Lam Wing-kee, who fled the Chinese territory last year amid fears of Chinese persecution, re-opened his shop, Causeway Bay Books, in Taipei’s Zhongshan District 20 months after its closure in Hong Kong. The opening was attended by a number of dignitaries, including legislative speaker Yu Shyi-kun, who said it was a moment of pride for Taiwan’s democracy.

Lam sought refuge in Taiwan after he was detained by Chinese agents for eight months in 2015 for selling books, popular with visiting mainland Chinese tourists, that were critical of the Chinese leadership. A few days before the new store’s opening, he made front-page headlines after a man threw red paint at him. The suspect and two alleged accomplices in the attack were arrested but later released on bail.

PRC Carrier Sails by East Coast

A Chinese naval fleet led by the PRC’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, passed relatively close to Taiwan during military exercises, the Ministry of National Defense said in mid-April. Accompanied by five warships, the Liaoning first passed through the Miyako Strait northwest of Taiwan, before sailing down Taiwan’s east coast. The flotilla then entered the South China Sea through the Bashi channel that separates Taiwan and the Philippines. The ministry said it monitored the carrier group’s progress throughout.

Perhaps in response to China’s recent provocations, an American warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on two separate recent occasions. A U.S. Seventh Fleet spokesman said the ship was the guided missile destroyer, USS Barry, which both times sailed in a north to south direction. On the day of the first passage in early April, Chinese fighter jets were conducting a drill close to Taiwan’s air space. The second time, in late April, coincided with the Liaoning’s operations in waters south of Taiwan.

The spokesman said the USS Barry had conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” in accordance with international law. “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.