Petty politics and Covid-19

Petty politics and Covid-19

Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan boasts one of the lowest Covid-19 infection rates in the world -- just 395 cases and six deaths in a population of 24 million -- thanks to its timely early response. Most students are still going to schools, restaurants are serving diners and people are working out in gyms.

The whole society has been functioning pretty normally, with additional awareness of social-distancing and other preventive measures. The government has also made smart use of technology and data to ensure supplies of face masks and medical equipment.

Having optimised mask output, Taiwan has even been donating its surplus to hard-hit places including the US and Japan, European countries and Southeast Asia. In short, it has been a model global citizen. However, its efforts are being undermined by outbreaks of political point-scoring.

On Dec 31, the whole world was about to celebrate the new year, little knowing what lay ahead. That same day, Taiwan's government reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), via the International Health Regulations (IHR) platform, that a new type of pneumonia emerging in China could be transmitted from human to human. The warning was ignored.

When the world started to become more aware of the situation, Taiwan was excluded from the discussions as it is not a WHO member. Nevertheless, it continued to use what outlets it could to provide the global community with the most up-to-date findings from its researchers.

China, meanwhile, was still covering up information and bullying whistleblowers into silence, while sparing no effort to sabotage Taiwan's attempts to be included in the global health network.

Yet even as Taiwan showed the world how to cope with the pandemic, it got no thanks from Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general. Instead, he complained he had received death threats and racist comments from Taiwan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei was aware of them but did nothing to make Taiwanese people behave, he said on April 8.

Doesn't he have better things to do? Especially at a time when many governments are criticising the WHO, and the United States is threatening to cut off funding?

The personal attacks started three months ago, Dr Tedros said. The truth is, three months ago, Taiwanese society was in the grip of elections, and most people had never heard his name.

It was truly unfortunate to see the head of a major world body make reckless statements without proof. What about Africans -- Dr Tedros is from Ethiopia -- being openly discriminated against by people in China? Does he have anything to say about that?

Why hasn't the WHO held the Chinese government to account for what is happening to the world? Early inaction in Wuhan is at the root of all our trouble. Instead, as the pandemic began to spread, the WHO asked its member states not to impose travel bans on China. It even praised Beijing's transparency, saying the world should be grateful for its efforts to prevent the situation from getting worse.

Seriously, people are dying by the thousands, yet we should be grateful to China? Why has the WHO become part of the propaganda apparatus for a regime that put the lives of its own people and the world at deadly risk?

Dr Tedros told the world not to politicise the virus, yet politicisation is pretty much what the WHO has been doing throughout this crisis.

Refusing to recognise the fact that the governments of Taiwan and the People's Republic are two separate political entities, and that Taiwan needs preventive strategies different from those of China, that is politicisation.

Asking the world to be grateful for China even though its government covered up the severity of the virus, which delayed the global reaction, that is politicisation.

Bruce Aylward, the WHO assistant director-general, pretending that his internet connection was breaking up during a video conference when a reporter asked him about a Taiwan's contributions -- that is politicisation.

People in Taiwan do criticise the WHO and Dr Tedros, yet the colour of his skin has never been the target. Instead, critics focus on the WHO's inefficiency that delayed the global response, as well as his relentless attempts to save China's face.

Taiwan may be a small island country, but after this crisis, the world should realise that its government has more integrity than its neighbour, and has always been willing to make a contribution to the international community.

Taiwan can help, and Taiwan is helping.

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