‘Mask Diplomacy’ a Boost for Taiwan

With U.S.-China relations showing scant improvement, Taiwan may bolster its global standing.

Forreign Policy
Date: Apri0l 13, 2020
By: Nicole Jao

Chen Chin-fang, the plant manager of Taiwan’s Universal Incorporation, one of the country’s biggest mask-makers, inspects mask materials at a factory in Tainan on March 6. SAM YEH/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Chen Chin-fang, the plant manager of Taiwan's Universal Incorporation, one of the country's biggest mask-makers, inspects mask materials at a factory in Tainan on March 6. SAM YEH/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.