Bring Taiwan in from the cold

China’s behavior during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has been disgraceful — marked by deceit and an unwillingness to cooperate with the rest of the world until it was too late. In addition, there’s reason to believe that the virus originated in a Chinese lab that did not meet safety standards.

By contrast, Taiwan’s behavior has been exemplary. According to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S., Taiwan has donated more than two million Taiwan-made masks to the U.S. and more than five million to the EU. It plans to donate another five million globally.

Moreover, according to our friend Michael Auslin, Taipei tried early on to warn the World Health Organization that the coronavirus might be transmitted between humans. That body, which is heavily influenced by China, refused to act on these warnings. (To appease China, the WHO refuses membership to Taiwan.) “If the WHO and Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus had acted responsibly, the COVID crisis could have been significantly contained, even in the face of Beijing’s misleading the world about the nature of the virus and the numbers of infections and deaths in China,” says Auslin.

Indeed, Taiwan’s understanding of the virus, along with its experience with the SARS outbreak, enabled Taipei to respond to the outbreak in a highly effective manner and without a lockdown. According to Auslin:

It imposed a sweeping ban on travel from China, maintained a ban on Chinese food products, and rigorously tested and monitored infections, allowing it to avoid the type of nationwide shutdown now playing havoc with Western economies.

The numbers (from Worldometer) demonstrate the effectiveness of the response. Taiwan has had 427 total cases (184 of them now active) and 6 total deaths.

We hear talk about “holding China accountable” for its deplorable conduct in connection with the Wuhan coronavirus. I don’t expect much follow through on this talk, other than less reliance on China in our supply chains. The world economy is likely to be in such bad shape that a trade war with China, for example, will likely seem out of the question.

One thing the world can do, though, is to bring Taiwan into the international community. As Auslin says, the case for doing so extends well beyond that nation’s responsible behavior and international altruism during this pandemic:

As democracy has retreated around the world in recent decades, Taiwan has remained a beacon for those transitioning from authoritarianism to freedom. It has been a thriving democracy since the late-1980s, regularly transferring power between its two main political parties, the KMT (founded by Sun Yat-sen and the party of Chiang Kai-shek) and the currently-ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Taiwan’s 23 million citizens not only increasingly think of themselves as Taiwanese, and not displaced mainlanders, they have proved that a flourishing democracy can take root in an ethnically Chinese society.

Moreover, Taiwan will be a key player if the U.S. diminishes, as we must, our reliance on China for supplies:

For decades, Taiwan has been a leader in the high-tech economy, and will become increasingly important as global supply chains shift away from China, due to China’s maturing economy, President Trump’s trade war and now the coronavirus. It has long been one of the world’s leading producers of advanced semiconductor chips, while Foxconn, one of the major suppliers to the iPhone, has already urged Apple to move its production out of China. As the competition between China and the United States heats up over semiconductors, 5G and artificial intelligence, a closer tech relationship between American and Taiwanese firms should be a priority.

I agree with Auslin that the U.S. should use its budgetary power to get Taiwan full membership in international groups such as Interpol and the International Civil Aviation Organization. We should also the leverage our $400 million contribution to the WHO, the world’s largest, to force WHO’s member states to invite Taiwan into the organization.

Taiwan never should have been exiled from the world. As Auslin concludes, “it’s long past time to bring Taiwan in from the cold.”

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