Taiwan is taking to “mask diplomacy” to support its New Southbound Policy, a major foreign policy priority of the Tsai administration since its first term. Taipei will donate surgical face masks to New Southbound countries, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. More than 1 million masks will be donated to help these countries combat the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs head Baushuan Ger said that some eight New Southbound countries that have requested assistance will receive face masks. The New Southbound Policy sought to recalibrate Taiwan’s overseas economic interactions with countries in South and Southeast Asia to reduce Taipei’s dependence on cross-strait trade with mainland China.
According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the masks that are being sent to New Southbound countries are primarily for the benefit of healthcare workers. According to Taiwanese reports, the countries that will be included in the first shipments include six Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries — Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia — and India.
Beyond New Southbound Policy countries, Taiwan is donating masks to others, including its diplomatic allies — the countries that officially recognize Taipei instead of Beijing — and other major partners, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, and other European countries.
When asked if Taipei would provide assistance to South Korea and Japan, Baushuan Ger responded that neither country had requested Taiwanese assistance. Japan declared a state of emergency in seven of its prefectures amid fears of the pandemic on Tuesday. South Korea, meanwhile, has largely succeeded in containing its outbreak of COVID-19, which accelerated first in February.
Taiwan’s internal containment efforts on COVID-19 have been widely praised. Taiwanese health authorities began tracking the outbreak of what was at the time an unknown infection in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, which later came to be known as the epicenter of the global pandemic.
As of this week, Taiwan had reported just 376 cases of the disease with five confirmed deaths and 61 successful recoveries. Taiwan also reacted to the outbreak early on with major travel restrictions on mainland China-based travelers.
In the meantime, Taiwan has also rapidly built up its domestic capacity to manufacture face masks amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Just one month ago, Taiwan was rationing its domestic stockpile of masks, with just two masks per week being offered to each Taiwanese resident.