Taiwan’s success in the fight against coronavirus has strengthened its global position. This infuriated Beijing

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As of Saturday, Taiwan has recorded 440 coronavirus cases and seven deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In comparison, Australia – with a population of 25 million – has reported over 7,000 infections and 98 deaths.

Anxious to share his experiences in the fight against Covid-19, Taiwan is now pushing for a greater voice in global health discussions. The United States, Japan and New Zealand have expressed their support for Taiwan to join the World Health Assembly next week, an annual meeting of the members of the World Health Organization (WHO).

And that’s not good with Beijing.

China considers the island part of its territory and for years has prevented it from taking part in many global institutions, also refusing to have diplomatic relations with countries that maintain official ties with Taiwan.

Taiwan, which is not a member of the WHO, joined the WHO as an observer from 2009 to 2016, when the island was ruled by Beijing’s friend Kuomintang (KMT). But when the Progressive Democratic Party for Independence (DPP) took office in 2016, ties were frayed with Beijing, and Taipei has not joined the WHA ever since.

“We are an integral link in the global healthcare network,” Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen he said Thursday on Twitter. “With greater access to the WHO, Taiwan would be able to offer more help in the global fight against # COVID19.”
WHO supports that only member states decide who attends the WHA meeting and rejected claims that Taiwan was excluded from discussions on the coronavirus, indicating its collaboration with Taiwanese scientists and health officials.

But as the virus offers Taiwan a rare opportunity to strengthen its international profile, Beijing accused Taipei of pushing for formal independence and intensified military exercises across the island. There have even been some marginal calls within China for the country to use the pandemic as an opportunity to invade Taiwan.

Democracy vs authoritarianism

While the number of new infections has dropped in China and has spread overseas in recent months, state media have sprouted Beijing’s success in defeating the virus, highlighting other governments’ failures to curb its spread – in especially the United States and other Western democracies.

Within China, this sparked the claim that its authoritarian political system was superior to that of liberal democracies when it came to tackling the pandemic.

In a comment At the end of last month, the state-run CCTV broadcaster hailed the Chinese political system as “the biggest advantage” in overcoming the epidemic. “The firm leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is the most important reason for China to defeat the epidemic,” he said.
Taiwan's coronavirus response is among the best globally
But Taiwan’s swift and transparent response – with medical officials holding daily briefings – since the start of the crisis has been supported as an example of how democracies can also excel in reining in epidemics. Taiwan has also avoided the kind of rigid blockages that have characterized the response in China and many other countries.

In addition, the Chinese government has faced criticism for its initial management of the epidemic. The authorities were accused of silencing health workers who tried to issue an alert on the virus, minimizing the severity of the epidemic and delaying the admission of human-to-human transmission in the early critical stages.

Beijing has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, although the mayor of Wuhan, the city where the virus was first discovered, admitted in an interview with the state-run CCTV broadcaster in late January that the city’s warnings were “not enough”, and the his government did not disclose information about the coronavirus “in a timely fashion”.
In addition to state media, China has sought to defend its image through diplomatic envoys. But the increasingly combative tone adopted by some Chinese diplomats on Twitter and beyond has only fueled tension and criticism.
A masked worker disinfects a park to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the new city of Taipei on March 9.

‘Taiwan can help’

As China moved to help countries by donating personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies, questions were raised about the reasons behind the so-called “mask diplomacy”.

In March, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned of the “geopolitical component” of Beijing’s push for soft-power, stating that Europe must be aware of “a struggle for influence through spinning and the “politics of generosity”. “

The Chinese foreign ministry he said last month that Beijing had provided aid for medical supplies to 127 countries and four international organizations, and sent 13 groups of medical experts to 11 countries.
Incidents of defective Chinese medical supplies by private sellers also created negative publicity. In March, the Netherlands recalled 600,000 “defective” masks purchased from a Chinese manufacturer, stating that they did not fit and that their filters were not working properly. Spain had a similar problem with a batch of “unreliable” test kits purchased from China, which appeared to have a low level of accuracy.
China has invited countries do not “politicize” concerns on the quality of medical supplies following accidents.
Meanwhile, Taipei’s efforts to help coronavirus-affected countries – under the slogan “Taiwan can help“- they were better received.
Last month, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry announced the donation of 10 million masks to the United States, Europe and its 15 official diplomatic allies – mainly small states in the Caribbean, Pacific and Africa – in a move that has generated significant global exposure.
Like the masks imprinted with the words “Made in Taiwan“arrived at boxes marked with the red, blue and white flag of the island, thank you messages came from senior officials in the United States and Europe.
“During difficult times, true friends unite,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, labeled by the Chinese state media as “an enemy of mankind” for his continued criticism of Beijing’s response to the pandemic – tweeted last month, calling the “openness and generosity” of the island in the battle against the coronavirus a “model for the world”.
Also the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen publicly thanked Taipei, saying that Europe appreciated the “gesture of solidarity”.
A staff of Taiwans Universal Incorporation, one of the major mask manufacturers, operates machinery in a factory in Tainan, southern Taiwan.

Position improvement

In addition to donating medical supplies, Taiwan has sought to develop bilateral partnerships to fight the pandemic – a move that has drawn Beijing’s wrath.

In March, the United States and Taiwan issued a joint declaration pledging to further strengthen their cooperation in the fight against Covid-19, including the development of test kits, vaccines, drugs and contact tracking technology.
Chinese affairs office in Taiwan CONSIDERED “a despicable move and a political conspiracy to use the Covid-19 pandemic to achieve independence” and accused Taipei of “taking a wrong course of confrontation with the motherland”.
A similar agreement between Taiwan and the Czech Republic in April also pushed hard protest from Beijing. And in India, the Hindu newspaper reported This week Taiwan proposed a regular communication channel with New Delhi to “ensure the availability of medical resources”.

In addition to bilateral cooperation, Taiwan has doubled its offer to return to the WHO annual assembly.

On March 27, the United States passed a law in support of Taipei’s participation in international institutions and its efforts to strengthen ties with other countries, and more nations are usually wary of being on the wrong side of Beijing, such as Japan, Canada. and New Zealand have publicly ruled in favor of Taiwan joining the WHA again.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reprimanded New Zealand for precisely this, asking it to “immediately stop making wrong statements about Taiwan, to avoid damaging our bilateral relations.” Beijing has called Taipei’s attempt to rejoin the WHA a “political conspiracy”.

“In the United States, there are people who blatantly support Taiwan in joining the WHO,” said a spokesman for the Taiwanese Bureau of Affairs in China last week. “They are politicizing epidemic prevention problems and sending a seriously wrong signal to the Taiwanese independence forces. We strongly oppose this.”

New Zealand's foreign ministry, Winston Peters, said this week that the country must defend itself after China warned of its support for Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Growing jingoism

The strong tensions of the cross straits have powered jingoistic calls in China for a military “remediation” action on the island.
In recent weeks, Beijing has stepped up military exercises around Taiwan, including sailing twice in a battle group led by the country’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, around the island in April.

On social media and the Chinese press, some called on the People’s Liberation Army to take advantage of the pandemic to invade Taiwan, arguing that the times could not have been better, with the United States worried about the coronavirus and its military might in the region. crushed by a blast on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

However, most observers agree that this posture is unlikely to be accompanied by hostile actions against Taiwan.

Timothy Heath, a senior international researcher at RAND Corporation, a US think tank, said that the weakness of the Chinese economy precludes any such move. The coronavirus epidemic led the Chinese economy to shrink by 6.8% in the first half of this year – the worst drop since quarterly records began in 1992.

“China needs access to (global) markets after their recovery, and it is therefore in China’s best interest to maintain good ties with the United States and the world,” said Heath. “A reckless attack on Taiwan would only exacerbate tensions with Washington and increase the risk of economic and other sanctions – potentially paralyzing the Chinese economy.”

He added that while Beijing “cares a lot about Taiwan,” the Chinese government cares even more “about maintaining economic growth that underlies the (Communist Party) rule.”

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