Building Resilience from Diversity

At the end of February, as Taiwan observed its annual Peace Memorial Day and much of the world was reeling from the crisis in Ukraine, it cheered me to learn that a new NGO is working to help minimize global shocks. The Reform for Resilience (R4R) Commission was launched globally two years ago to tackle the interconnected issues impacting economy, climate, and health. It gathers leaders from different regions and sectors, including former Vice President and renowned epidemiologist Chen Chien-jen, to “make the pandemic a catalyst for strengthening global institutional commitment to a healthier and more resilient model of global growth.”

This month’s TOPICS editorial calls for the U.S. to look to the many strengths of its capable partner, Taiwan. Given their different backgrounds, it is hardly surprising that Taiwan’s strengths often compensate for American weaknesses, and vice versa. Untapped synergies are apparent between our approaches to public health and resource mobilization. When it comes to rating pandemic responses, I am something of an expert – having completed four quarantines: three in Taiwan, one in Japan…and none during two visits to the U.S.

America has few peers when it comes to government, technologists, and workers uniting behind massive, urgent challenges. So-called moonshot projects such as, well, the Apollo Program, or inventing mRNA vaccines and medications to combat a novel virus spring to mind. Public-Private Partnerships often define these campaigns, and they’ve been practiced in America since at least the 1700s.

By contrast, the U.S. is not famed for sustaining patient and detail-heavy systems of the sort at which Taiwan shows mastery. It has created marvels like the Hoover Dam and a continental highway system – but has struggled to maintain them over ensuing decades. Relatedly, the practice of public health is not a long suit in a society where health delivery is private – and benchmarked against quarterly earnings rather than, say, life expectancies. In sports terms, the U.S. is the sprinter, while Taiwan is more the distance athlete.

Consider the brilliance shown by Taiwan in leveraging big data analysis, information communications, and other technologies to achieve painstaking progress in testing, contact tracing, home quarantine, and hospital infection control. In fact, during the first phase of the pandemic, TOPICS carried a proposal that Taiwan draw on its success in combatting COVID to develop a pandemic response industry that it could market to the world.

Even in the pandemic’s crash priority, vaccine invention, Taiwan gets honorable mention for being one of a handful of countries to produce a homegrown coronavirus vaccine. And while Taiwan’s record in vaccine procurement was by contrast middling, in the deliberate work of domestic rollout and last-mile logistics, it is a world-beater.

There is divergence in rule-making around border controls and vaccine acceptance, too. The sudden announcement by the U.S. in October 2021 of new vaccine and testing requirements was criticized for both precipitous rollout and risk logic. However, as a framework, it was simple, transparent, and even-handed. Taiwan’s case-by-case approach to exceptional business visa grants was almost the opposite. What model will Taiwan adopt for its catch-up border reopening? Taiwan and the U.S. have much to teach one another in their sharply contrasting responses to crisis.

While our countries may have unique capacity to work together, we don’t partner with each other exclusively. The Global Cooperative Training Framework, which aims to bring Taiwanese expertise to the developing world, grew from a U.S.-Taiwan bilateral program to now involve several nations. Now, we welcome an equally promising mechanism in the above-mentioned R4R. Its Asia-Pacific Hub recently released an important report on the region’s pandemic responses and vaccination efforts. Under the leadership of Professor Syaru Shirley Lin, the Hub is in the process of establishing an international NGO in Taiwan to expand its efforts. It will thus be able to play a vital role in promoting Taiwan’s unique strengths abroad. R4R has landed in the right place at the right time. Let’s give it a hand.

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