With U.S.-China relations showing scant improvement, Taiwan may bolster its global standing.
Date: Apri0l 13, 2020
By: Nicole Jao
The coronavirus pandemic, which has already infected more than 1.6 million people around the world, has transformed the value of basic medical supplies. In many countries, vital gear such as face masks, swabs, gloves, and gowns has dwindled to dangerous lows. Countries are imposing export bans on personal protective equipment (PPE) precisely as governments are scrambling to import record numbers of the same items. International supply chains for medical supplies have never been so dysfunctional—and the countries that produce them have never been so powerful.
Taiwan—one of the world’s biggest suppliers of medical-grade masks and one of the few places to have successfully battled back COVID-19—is a case in point. It now has a rare opportunity to leverage this moment to make political gains against its long-running antagonist, China. Taipei will have to play its cards carefully, however—especially in Washington.
Taiwan, with a population of just 23 million people, is now the second-largest global producer of face masks after China. It produces 15 million masks each day, according to Taiwan’s economic affairs minister, Shen Jong-chin. As more factories join forces to churn out medical-grade masks, the government expects to raise production to 17 million masks a day by the end of the month. In March, Taipei relaxed an export ban on masks imposed on Jan. 24.
The United States, which now has the most coronavirus cases in the world, stands to benefit. Last month, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu pledged to donate 100,000 surgical face masks per week to the United States. The United States, in return, would agree to send 300,000 hazmat suits to Taiwan.