Pitcairn Island (pop 50) listed in official statistics, but not the Republic of China
By Ricky Browne
There is much talk of vaccine diplomacy and vaccine apartheid these days – with the spotlight shining largely on developed countries which are said to be hoarding vaccines, and on three major developing countries which are giving away their vaccines – Russia, India and China.
But there is another country which is leading the world in terms of how it has managed the Covid-19 pandemic, and which is also assisting a handful of small countries in helping them to manage the disease.
That country is Taiwan, formally the Republic of China, which is not recognised by most countries as being an independent country.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t mention it at all in its list of more than 200 independent countries and dependent territories. It is as if Taiwan, an island with a population of about 23.5 million people, doesn’t exist at all.
The reason is that China — formally the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – views Taiwan as a renegade province , and it frowns on any attempt for it to be recognised otherwise. With its population of 1.398 billion people and an economy to match, China has a big influence on many world events and organisations.
Taiwan views itself as the real China. The Chiang-Kai-shek led Chinese government fled to Taiwan after the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the revolution of 1949.
More recently there have been increased calls for Taiwan to declare independence from China – which has resulted in increased tension and threats of war.
And the WHO is supported by China and does not wish to upset it.
Go to the WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard (https://covid19.who.int/table) , and virtually every country, territory and area that you can think of is listed.
China, where the virus started in 2019, is listed by WHO as having a total of 101,778 cases with a total of 4,843 deaths – a remarkably low number given its population. On February 25th, WHO said that China, with a population of close to 1.4 billion people, had only had 28 new cases and only one death reported in the previous 24 hours.
Other places listed in Asia by WHO include tiny states like Niue (a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand and a population of 1,591 people) and Palau (independent with a population of 20,600 people).
It also includes some dependencies like American Samoa (an unincorporated, unorganised territory of the US with a population of 46,366 people) and the Pitcairn Islands (an overseas dependency of the United Kingdom with a population of 50 people – yes, you read that right – 50 people).
Each of those countries or territories have no coronavirus cases at all, but in an effort to be completely fulsome in its information, WHO has felt it important to tell us about virtually every country and territory on Earth.
All, except for one — Taiwan, with its population of 23.5 million people.
Despite being purposefully overlooked, the fact is that Taiwan has done a much better job at handling this pandemic than any other country – including the WHO’s poster child of New Zealand.
New Zealand has a population of about 5.1 million people, who live in a much larger area than Taiwan, giving it a much lower population density. Yet New Zealand, which also has the advantage (at least in this situation) of being more isolated than Taiwan, has a rate of infection and death that is much higher than Taiwan’s.
New Zealand has had 26 Covid-19 deaths and 2,344 cases. But that compares to Taiwan which has a population almost five times bigger, and has recorded only nine deaths and 940 cases.
WHO RECOGNISES TAIWAN?
Only a handful of countries have stubbornly held onto recognising Taiwan as being China. That number has steadily decreased overtime, ever since US President Richard Nixon recognised the PRC over Taiwan in the early 1970s.
Several of those countries are tiny independent states such as St Lucia in the Caribbean.
A total of 15 countries recognise Taiwan – and therefore do not have relations with the PRC. They include: Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Paraguay, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland and Tuvalu.
St Lucia, a former British colony, has a population of 182,000 people and an economy that depends heavily on tourism. In October 2019, St Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet showed how seriously his country views its relationship with Taiwan, when he travelled to the country to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the ROC.
But Taiwan has been helping St Lucia in managing this pandemic by sending it donations of necessary equipment. As early as April last year the St Lucian government publicly thanked Taiwan for donating 40,000 face masks, six sets of thermal imaging body temperature detection systems and several forehead thermometers.
“We thank you Taiwan” the St Lucia Ministry of Health and Wellness posted on Facebook.
More recently, Taiwan donated 14,500 rapid test kits on January 27. At a handover of the tests, Prime Minister Chastanet praised Taiwan and said it was a friend “we can never do without.”
So far the country has reported 34 deaths from Covid with 231 active cases out of 3,149 total cases.
But when it came to the actual vaccine, St Lucia received a donation of 3,000 AstraZeneca vaccines Dominica and Barbados – which in turn had been donated the vaccines from India.
China has not yet used its vaccine diplomacy in the Caribbean to any great extent – but India has been making strides, donating 100,000 vaccines to Barbados,70,000 to Dominica and plans to make donations to other Caribbean states.
After getting its first set of vaccines, St Lucia started its rollout on February 17, with Prime Minister Chastanet and his wife receiving two of the first shots. The rest will go mainly to frontline health workers.
NO VACCINES YET
Like New Zealand, Taiwan actually hasn’t started its own vaccination programme yet, as it still hasn’t got a hold of any vaccines. But it is in line to get 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX global vaccine distribution scheme, and it expects to start vaccinating its population from March at the earliest, according to a recent report from the Taipei Times.
Both New Zealand and Taiwan have done an excellent job so far in managing this crisis, and with no vaccines. There should be lessons from both countries.
But the WHO would prefer that the world doesn’t know about Taiwan at all, and therefore that nothing should be learned about from how it has manoeuvred through this. ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see here’ seems to be the modus operandi.
Meanwhile, Taiwan continues to share its expertise and equipment with some of the 15 states that still dare to recognize it over the Republic of China.
If it plays its cards right, its quiet coronavirus-related diplomacy is likely to assure Taiwan of holding onto the 15 states that recognise it for just a bit longer. And Taiwan will continue to show the world that it does not need to belong to the WHO to figure out how best to tackle this pandemic.