Taiwan has pledged to donate 10m face masks to countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic including EU member states and the US, in a move that will probably anger China and highlights the geopolitical dimension of the pandemic.
Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, said that while Taiwan had the spread of the virus under control, the pandemic would never end unless the global spread could be stopped.
“At the previous stage, we formed a national team, now we need to play an international match and fight the pandemic together with other countries,” Ms Tsai said. “At this stage, we will donate 10m masks.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said 7m of the masks would go to the EU and particularly hard-hit EU member countries as well as the UK and Switzerland, a pledge more than three times the amount China promised the EU.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, demands third countries and international organisations ignore Taiwan’s de facto independence and treat it as if it were ruled by Beijing.
While the EU follows this so-called “one China” policy and has no diplomatic or formal political relations with Taiwan, it maintains a “structured dialogue” with Taipei — and is scouring the world to source masks and other equipment as Covid-19 cases climb across Europe.
“We welcome solidarity,” an EU official said of the Taiwan mask proposal, while acknowledging that “Chinese sensitivities are obviously involved”.
The EU is still awaiting arrival of a consignment of 2m surgical masks, 200,000 N95 respiratory protection masks and 50,000 coronavirus testing kits from China announced on March 18 by Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president. The commission said on Tuesday that its latest information was that the supplies would be ready to send “in the coming days” to Italy, the European country most affected by coronavirus.
Excluded from the World Health Organization at China’s insistence, Taipei is keen to use its success so far in containing the virus to boost international co-operation, especially with “like-minded countries” such as western democracies. As of Tuesday, Taiwan had only 322 confirmed coronavirus cases and a death toll of 5.
Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top scientific research institution, held a videoconference on the coronavirus crisis on March 18 with officials from various EU institutions. It said the two sides had agreed to co-operate on development of a rapid diagnostic test and a vaccine.
The same day, Taiwan authorities signed a deal with the American Institute in Taiwan, the US quasi-embassy in Taipei, on anti-coronavirus co-operation. China blasted the agreement as “a political plot to pursue independence with the help of the epidemic”.
The accord included a pledge that once Taiwan’s mask production capacity had reached a level where it could spare some, it would provide 100,000 week to the US in exchange for materials for producing hazmat suits.
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On Monday, Taipei announced an arrangement with Australia, under which Canberra will provide alcohol needed for producing hand sanitiser in exchange for non-woven fabric from Taiwan for mask production.
One of Taipei’s key measures to strengthen itself against the pandemic was an early export ban and rationing of domestic sales of medical masks, while the government offered incentives and procurement guarantees for manufacturers of the equipment. This has led to a rapid ramp-up of new mask production capacity, which had reached 13m pieces a day as of Tuesday.