Taiwan and the United States are closing ranks against the still-rampaging coronavirus pandemic, in arguably their first international partnership involving the swap and sharing of medical supplies, disease testing and control tools as well as vaccine research and development.
The link-up was announced by the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de-facto embassy on the self-ruled island, and Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday. Under the deal, Taiwan, which has managed to put a lid on the spread of Covid-19, will ship 100,000 surgical masks and an undisclosed number of fast test kits to the US each week.
The US is bracing for a full-blown contagion amid a lack of gear that is due to, some critics say, Washington’s ill-prepared emergency response.
The US has prepared for Taiwan the raw materials required to make 300,000 protective outfits for frontline medical professionals, and in return Taiwan, with local output stabilizing, will export masks to the US. The deal was announced by Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu at a news conference after a meeting between Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and AIT Director Brent Christensen.
More Taiwan-made masks could be on their way to the US if local infections on the island continue to recede, and defenses are being shored up to stem the inflow of cases from overseas.
In a stark contrast, Taiwan swiftly banned mask exports to mainland China at the onset of the respiratory epidemic as early as late January, when the mainland was experiencing a supply crunch with individuals scooping up stocks at overseas pharmacies including those in Taiwan.
The embargo that also covers drugs and medicine soon incurred Beijing’s ire, with the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office lambasting Taiwan’s unilateral and “union-busting” move at a testing time that needed parties to fight a common cause.
The island has not lifted its export ban even after it has ratcheted up production since March, as about 11 million masks can be churned out now that the island launched some of the world’s largest mask production lines.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung has also revealed that, apart from masks and protective gear, Taiwan also aims to be included in the US’ drug and vaccine development for early supply to the island, when leading US drugmakers like Merck Sharp & Dohme and Pfizer and the federal government fast-track trial and approval of possible vaccines as well as remdesivir, an antiviral drug that is a potential candidate for treating the coronavirus.
Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s national academy, will also supply the US with rapid immune-based fast test kits developed by the island’s researchers.
“To further strengthen US-Taiwan consultation and cooperation on combating the virus, which originated in Wuhan in China, both sides will seek to share best practices and cooperate on a range of activities,” read a statement about the US-Taiwan partnership to combat the plague.
Meanwhile, several US lawmakers and Andrew Bremberg, the US’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, have renewed calls for Taiwan to join the Geneva-based World Health Organization, or attend meetings about the current outbreak as an observer.
Earlier, Taiwan rebuffed point-blank Beijing’s offer to share information about the disease via an informal channel, and insisted the island must be given access to data from the WHO.
Questioning the “trustworthiness” of China’s official figures, Taiwan came up with a counter-proposal of allowing its membership in the UN body, arguing Beijing’s politicking and bid to freeze it out of the WHO was endangering the wellbeing of 23 million Taiwanese during a global health crisis that no country is impervious to.
Taiwan has much to share with the WHO and the international community after it has emerged far better than not just China, but other neighbors across Asia, with only 100 confirmed infection cases as of Wednesday. Health experts lauded the island’s combined approach of transparency, central command and technology to fighting the pathogen.
Yet Beijing is adamant that only a sovereign state can join the organization and the island is but a wayward province awaiting unification. Beijing’s sway over the WHO has been dragged into the full glare of the international media, amid the global public health agency’s belated response as well as alerts and containment measures issued in hindsight. The organization has been accused of humoring Beijing to make light of the situation despite the plague erupting in Wuhan since the end of 2019.
Taiwan’s Vice-President Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist by training, has also taken a swipe at WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying his declaration of Covid-19 as a pandemic was “too late,” and the island’s top health specialists, he himself included, had been shut out in the cold by Beijing’s geopolitical obsessions.
Last year Taiwan was also blocked from attending the WHO’s discussions on influenza vaccines.