How Taiwan Can Push Back Against China Amid COVID-19 Crisis
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How Taiwan Can Push Back Against China Amid COVID-19 Crisis

By Fatima Germanwala

How Taiwan Can Push Back Against China Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Despite close interaction with mainland China, Taiwan successfully controlled the COVID-19 virus without using any coercive measures. With a population of approximately 23.7 million, the island reported nearly 487 confirmed cases and seven deaths as of July 2020. Along with flattening the curve, Taiwan supplied medical aid to other countries. According to Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, the island donated 51 million masks abroad.

Taiwan did not reveal any details regarding the aid as it fears aggression from mainland China. In a diplomatic meeting with the US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on August 11, 2020, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister revealed that its overseas medical aid was kept confidential to avoid impediments from the mainland.

Since Taiwan is recognized as a sovereign territory of the People’s Republic of China at international forums, the mainland takes offense in any bilateral engagement between Taiwan and other countries. China has even excluded Taiwan from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to restrict its international reach. Since 2016 the Island is barred from attending annual World Health Assembly and WHO technical and experts meetings. Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO implies that immediate precaution and safety measures used by the territory could not be shared with the organization timely. Moreover, the WHO - COVID-19 data on China includes Taiwan statistics. According to Taiwanese official Stanley Kao, compiling Taiwan and mainland statistics together denies the world of accurate and timely information.

China’s stronghold in Hong Kong and oppressive measures in Xinjiang is already inviting hostility from the international community. The US has imposed various sanctions on China and its officials at the backdrop of China’s intervention in Hong Kong. India, Australia, and Indonesia are also conducting virtual meetings to increase cooperation against China in the Indo-Pacific region. These developments came after China’s aggression with India at the Ladakh border and in the South China Sea with archipelagos like Indonesia.

A report by China’s Ministry of State Security states that the anti-China sentiment across the world is at its peak since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Additionally, more than 100 countries are backing a WHO resolution against China to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 virus.

While mainland China continues to battle the criticism, there is a unique opportunity for Taiwan to project its strength. Across worldwide; Taiwan is being appreciated for flattening the COVID-19 curve and its method is now being recognized as the "Taiwan Model". Likewise, its medical aid to other countries and attempts to participate in WHO to provide timely information has gained widespread international support.

With this new-found support, Taiwan possesses a golden opportunity to enhance its diplomatic relations with other countries and resist mainland aggression. Strategist Daniel FitzGerald Runde has described this as “once in a generation opportunity” for Taiwan.

By investing in soft power approaches, the island can cultivate its strengths and transform its international position. An agenda for effective-aid, transforming supply chains, and stronger engagement in international organizations are some of the techniques to achieve this.

The anti-China sentiments benefit not just Taiwan but other countries too. Developing relations with Taiwan can help understand the modus operandi of the mainland as it has been facing China’s aggression for over two decades. Taiwan has been a victim of the mainland’s cyberattacks since 2018. China attempted to jeopardize Taiwan’s COVID-19 data as well by producing fake online reports. Mainland also attempts to influence Taiwan’s elections by circulating fake news and trolls. However, the 2020 national elections of Taiwan is indicative of its successful push back against China. By increasing cooperation with Taiwan, other countries can subdue China at asymmetric warfare that takes place in real-time through misinformation on social media platforms.

Taiwan is also experiencing an economic revival. Its Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for August 2020 reached 56% indicating positive growth. Although it is early to predict economic recovery as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, any further economic growth will add to Taiwan’s advantage. The island can invest in building infrastructure and attract overseas investments as companies are trying to move their businesses away from China. The COVID-19 situation has created a rare opportunity for Taiwan to present and project its strengths. The exemplary control of the COVID-19 virus within its territory along with foreign aid supply speaks volumes about its medical health awareness and preparedness. It also strengthens Taiwan’s ambition to be recognized and participate in more international forums.

Taiwan has been successfully pushing back against China through diplomatic channels and other means. Amid growing anti-China sentiments, Taiwan can further cultivate diplomatic channels with countries facing China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. A strong political will, actionable policies along with a steady economy can help Taiwan to redeem international recognition and fight China’s aggression simultaneously.

About the Author:

Fatima Germanwala (ORCID: 0000-0002-9666-1836) is a freelance researcher and content developer. She was formerly associated with Janes as Consulting Analyst and has completed Masters from the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.