Taiwan President Tsai Ingwen on New Year-eve offered to provide China with “necessary assistance” to help it deal with a surge in Covid-19 cases, adding that Chinese military activities near the island were not beneficial to peace and stability.
In an abrupt change of policy, China last month began dismantling the world’s strictest pandemic regime of lockdowns and extensive testing, meaning that Covid-19 may be spreading largely unchecked and likely infecting millions of people a day, according to some international health experts.
It may be recalled that Taiwan has effectively put in place preventive, restrictive and control measures to combat Covid-19 when it broke out at the peak, with effective track and monitoring mechanism in place. Taiwan also used the lessons it had learned in 2003 during the SARS outbreak to fight Covid virus. It also followed through all WHO advisories in combatting Covid spread and its treatment, even while not being world body’s member. The nation also supplied PPE kits to countries in the region when supplies for the same almost dried down due to sudden control and disruption of supply chains.
Tsai, in her traditional New Year message, delivered at the presidential office, said everyone had seen the rise in cases in China, which views Taiwan as its own territory and has ramped up military pressure to assert those claims.
“As long as there is a need, based on the position of humanitarian care, we are willing to provide the necessary assistance to help more people get out of the pandemic and have a healthy and safe New Year,” she said.
Taiwan gradually opened up its national borders and territories for international travel, allowing travellers to travel while following health guidelines which it issued in public interest from time to time, including carefully orchestrated visa issuance and diligent operations at the international airport.
It may be recalled that Taiwan finally opened up its boarders for seamless international travel effective October 13, 2022 with strict preventive Covid measures and lowering rules for quarantine measures in place.
While travelling to and in Taipei and Taiwan in general, I did not find and see anyone travelling in public transport or otherwise without wearing masks with everyone following state announces Covid control measures.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen
Taiwanese discipline and responsible social behaviour in fight against the virus has proved effective.
China had criticised Taiwan for ineffective management of the pandemic after soaring domestic infections last year, while Taiwan has accused China of a lack of transparency and trying to interfere with vaccine supplies to Taiwan, which Beijing has denied.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his New Year address, made only brief reference of Taiwan, saying people on either side of the Taiwan Strait “are members of one and the same family”, and made no mention of seeking to bring the island under Chinese control.
Tsai, added that“I want to remind people – the military activities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) near Taiwan are not at all conducive to cross-strait relations nor regional peace and stability.”
Shortly after Tsai spoke, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said 12 Chinese military aircraft had crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which had previously served as an unofficial buffer, in the past 24 hours.
China staged war-games near the island in August after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, and those military activities have continued.
Tsai has repeatedly said she wants talks and peace with China but that Taiwan will defend itself if attacked and that only its 24 million people can decide their future.
In local elections held in Taiwan last month, it’s amply clear though that ordinary people in Taiwan care more for issues of development and welfare and may not be much concerned about larger geopolitical issues.
Posturing aside, it is in overall larger interest of Taiwan and China that they keep the genuine interest in continuing dialogues for peace alive, considering how deeply their trade, commerce, business and people-topeople ties are aligned for shared prosperity.
Peace in 2023 will be much greater shared goal between Taiwan and China than it might ever have been in generations. It would take two to tango, though.
(The writer is a founding CEO of Berlin-based global think-tank, Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute. He has also worked with the United Nations)