Date: 16 March 2020
By: Yao-Hung Huang.
Image credit: Houlin Zhao, Secretary – General, ITU with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO by ITU Pictures /Flickr, license CC BY 2.0
The tragedy that is the spread of the COVID 19 virus has dominated headlines around the world. While in Taiwan it has been a cause of considerable consternation, it has at the same time incited controversy about Taiwan’s relationship with the Chinese mainland. This has been most evident in the flair up of the so-called ‘face mask panic’ (口罩之亂), which saw furious anger at restrictions on China-bound facemask exports among prominent China-friendly business and entertainment figures.
Yet it is on the other side of the political divide where concern has been greatest. There are worries that the very governance issues which arguably inhibited the early identification and containment of the epidemic forebode the bleak future of a Taiwan unified with the Chinese mainland, should this eventuate. A more immediate cause of consternation is how the global response to the disease has shown how China’s influence upon international organisations is contributing to the international marginalisation of Taiwan. An important case in point has been the organisation at the forefront of global efforts to respond to the coronavirus crises – the World Health Organisation (WHO).
When China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) two decades ago, Taiwanese experts anticipated that China’s economic opening up and increasing participation in international organs would hasten its transformation into a liberal democratic country, and prompt it to soften its stance on Taiwanese sovereignty. However, years of integration into the global order have not prompted China to rule out using military force to reunite Taiwan with the mainland. Rather than market forces constraining China, its growing market power and investment potential – manifest in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative – have become instruments of power projection. And rather than submitting to a ‘rules based order’ and curtailing its regional ambitions, China’s widening presence in global forums has seen it increasingly use international bodies to strengthen its territorial claims and deny wider recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty. [FULL STORY]