Taiwan (Republic of China, or R.O.C.) is a small, but gorgeous island that is 1/10th the size of Montana, USA. Standing at 13,974 sq. mi., 245 miles long and 89.5 miles wide; boasting a population of 23.59 million people (Montana has 1.06 million people spread out over 147,164 sq. mi. Just to continue the comparison).
Taiwan has very purposely been pushed aside in the greater global conversation for 70 years but amid the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, more commonly referred to as COVID-19 pandemic, the world is starting to take notice of the small but formidable island nation.
Given not only Taiwan’s physical relationship to China but also the level of travel between the two countries this is indeed remarkable. Two other locations share a similar distance from China, Vietnam and South Korea.
Taiwan stands out because they tried to warn the World Health Organization (WHO) about the then possible, now a horrifying reality, of human-to-human transmission on December 31, 2019. By ignoring this warning the world lost 3 weeks of preparation in combating the spread of the virus.
As we can see by looking at the United States and how it’s unwillingness to take the matter seriously early enough those three weeks were very precious indeed, every day, every hour translated into lost lives.
The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
By looking at a snapshot of the stats of COVID-19 in Taiwan you can see how recognizing the possible dangers and being aggressively proactive saved lives. At the time of this writing, Taiwan has 322 cases and five COVID-19 deaths. Only forty-six of those cases are local. Meaning it was transmitted from person-to-person on the island. The remaining 276 cases are imported; brought to the island from returning residents or visitors.
The first case was imported to the island and reported on January 21, 2020. The patient was the spouse of a woman who had been working in China during the outbreak period. The first local case was reported on January 28, 2020. I have been living on Formosa since August 2019 and the question is being asked: “What did they do differently?” I can tell you that this situation was taken seriously by the government and the citizens. The citizens were able to react appropriately because they were kept informed with a consistent and often repeated message. They demonstrated the leadership qualities that larger countries with access to greater resources didn’t seem able to grasp in this crucial time.
But has noticing Taiwan come too late? I don’t think so but a mire of political maneuvering must be negotiated and needs to be addressed quickly if the world wants help slowing the spread of this invisible enemy.
A step in the right direction is President Trump signing the TAIPEI (Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative) Act. With support from both the Senate and the House. The act was introduced in the Senate by Cory Gardner last May. The TAIPEI Act authorizes the U.S. State Department to consider “reducing its economic, security and diplomatic engagements with nations that take serious or significant actions to undermine Taiwan.”
The next step should be the full recognition of Taiwan by the United Nations (U.N.). For some of us new to this unnecessary quagmire, the confusion can start with how Taiwan is referred to in political discussions officially, Republic of China. The U.N. recognizes Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic Of China based out of Beijing as part of China’s “One China” position.
Taiwan is not governed by Beijing, holds its own democratic elections which President Tsai Ing-wen has won for a second term, first being elected in 2016 and winning her second term in January 2020.
The island nation lost its U.N. seat in 1971. In 1979 the United States Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The Taiwan Relations Act declares it to be the policy of the United States to preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland and all other people of the Western Pacific area.
As of July 2019, Taiwan was the United States’ 11th largest trading partner and the world’s 22nd largest economy.
Taiwan’s democratic government is recognized by 18 countries and has issued its own passports since 1919 and printed its own currency since 1945. So all of this begs the question, why has its status remains de facto even in this time of global crisis when it has so much to offer the world when it could provide assistance that could help save thousands if not millions of lives around the globe? The answer: China.
Accusations of collusion between WHO and China abound and WHO’s assistant director-general Bruce Aylward did the organization no favors with his performance March 28, 2020, when producer Yvonne Tong asked him if his organization would reconsider Taiwan’s membership. First, he stated he didn’t hear the question and tried to get Tong to move on. When Tong asked again he stated they had “already talked about China.” The conversation ended with Aylward’s hastily disconnecting.
Taiwan has certainly recognized the opportunity that lays before it at this moment and is taking full advantage of the missteps of China to prove its ability to hold court with the rest of the world. And by demonstrating its ability to function and meet some demands that China cannot. Like this gift of 100,000 masks to its biggest ally, the United States.
In this time of great global need, when lives are at stake around the world, there is no room and no time for this sort of political dickering. Taiwan has proven its willingness to be there for a world in need of some way to make inroads against this virus that has disrupted the world as a whole. Maybe now is the time the world stands together to give Taiwan its rightful status among the world’s nations against bullies, whether they be invisible to the naked eye or if they stand in the eye of the storm.