Taiwan’s Health Diplomacy Didn’t Start With the COVID-19 Crisis

Despite diplomatic exclusion, Taiwan has worked to provide wide-scale humanitarian assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic — and beyond.

The Diplomat
Date:\ 0April 16, 2020
By: Marcin Jerzewski and Kuan-Ting Chen

Credit: Office of the President, ROC (Taiwan)

An unexpected consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has been the recent shift in rhetoric on Taiwan among several high-ranking global political figures. Take Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, as an example. Although the EU has previously remained assertive in its adherence to the Beijing formulation of a “One China policy,” Taiwan’s generous donation of much sought-after medical supplies to several member states prompted the top EU official to directly address Taiwan in a message of thanks.

Even though Taiwan’s generous assistance to Western countries stricken by the pandemic, as well as its effective containment of the virus domestically, finally provided media attention to the island, not all responses have been positive. World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently accused the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry of instigating the threats and racist abuse he has received in recent months. “This attack came from Taiwan,” said Tedros, the WHO’s first African leader. Importantly, the allegations emerged after a number of politicians from around the globe spoke up in favor of Taiwan’s participation in the work of the WHO, and as many voiced their criticism of the WHO’s questionable handling of the pandemic. It is noteworthy that Tedros consistently defended China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak while continuously ignoring warnings and best practices shared by Taiwan.

The Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as President Tsai Ing-wen promptly dismissed the allegations as “baseless,” and emphasized that there was no evidence of Taiwan’s encouragement or participation in racist attacks against Tedros. It would be futile to argue that Taiwan is entirely free from the ills of racism. Instead, it is important to consider how it continues to support its overseas partners in their quest to strengthen their healthcare systems, while being systematically discriminated against by the international community. The recent donation of crucial medical supplies to Western countries is, of course, a much-needed response to the global health crisis without precedent in living memory. Nevertheless, we argue that it ought to be understood in the context of Taiwan’s long-standing commitment to acting as a responsible stakeholder within the global public health regime.    [FULL  STORY]

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