April 3, 2020 | Policy Brief

Taiwan Continues to Lead in Fight Against Coronavirus

April 3, 2020 | Policy Brief

Taiwan Continues to Lead in Fight Against Coronavirus

Taiwan announced on Tuesday that it will provide 10 million masks to countries hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, including Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This responsible approach contrasts sharply with the hostility and duplicity of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has prioritized the delegitimization of Taiwan over combating the pandemic.

Taiwan has adopted a an extensive plan incorporating 124 steps to fight the virus, including quarantines, increased surveillance, social distancing, and travel bans. Although Taiwan’s first reported infection was on January 21, the Taiwanese government had begun testing for the virus as early as December 31, 2019.

In addition, after hearing about the initial Wuhan outbreaks, Taiwanese health authorities boarded planes arriving from Wuhan to immediately check passengers for symptoms. Taiwan also implemented strict screening measures for all international arrivals and actively traced the interactions of those infected.

Through these measures, Taiwan has kept its infection rates exceptionally low compared to the rest of the world: Taiwan’s population has suffered 329 infections and five deaths.

By contrast, Beijing initially downplayed the threat of this virus. China ignored early warnings and instead chose to suppress doctors, such as Li Wenliang, for sharing their concerns. Li later died from the disease. U.S. intelligence also disclosed that Beijing has underreported on coronavirus infection and fatality rates.

Beijing minimized the threat not only domestically but also internationally. Most notably, the World Health Organization (WHO), likely due to China’s influence as a member state and key funder, discouraged countries from imposing travel bans early on and was slow to acknowledge the overall crisis. The WHO has also persistently ignored and even dismissed Taipei’s efforts, drawing condemnation from Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese critics alike.

Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO membership reflects mainland China’s political warfare strategy: China seeks to induce nations worldwide not to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, because Beijing regards the island nation as under its jurisdiction. Fortunately, earlier this week, the WHO finally succumbed to public pressure from Taiwan and other governments and reportedly is now studying Taiwan’s successful response measures.

At the same time, Beijing has attempted to distract attention from its initial failures by increasing foreign medical aid worldwide. China has also waged an aggressive domestic and international propaganda campaign, spreading false narratives about its earlier irresponsibility. Beijing has even claimed that the U.S. military introduced the virus into China, a conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.

The United States should continue to shine a spotlight on Taiwan’s response to the pandemic and support Taiwan against China’s efforts to suppress its voice. To counter China’s false narratives and influence, the United States should coordinate with its other democratic allies in both Asia and Europe to bring Taiwan onto the global diplomatic stage as a key actor. 

Mathew Ha is a research analyst focused on North Korea at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Mathew and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Mathew on Twitter @MatJunsuk. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


COVID-19 Indo-Pacific International Organizations Military and Political Power North Korea U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy