1. Failure of an honor student
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan had been praised as a successful case (honor student) for the prevention of epidemics because there were almost no infections in the country. However, a community-acquired infection has been spreading since its outbreak last month. Having been unconsciously careless, an honor student failed the examination.
As of May 29, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center of the Taiwanese government, 7,806 people have been infected (Among them, 6,620 people have been infected in Taiwan, while others have been infected overseas and entered Taiwan) and 99 have died. Moreover, New Taipei City and Taipei City have seen the highest number of infections, with 3,118 in New Taipei and 2,503 in Taipei.
2. Background of failure and challenge of “local communities”
Community-acquired infections started with those of pilots from a major airline, China Airline, which occurred one after another from late April. Pilots who had returned from overseas assignment were infected, and then the employees of the hotel used for quarantine (quarantine accommodation) “Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport” were infected. On May 10, the Central Epidemic Command Center announced that all China Airline pilots would be quarantined for 14 days, even though 10% of air cargo capacity would be affected. On the following day (May 11), the Center raised the alert level to the second level, with the highest being four, and set the alert period until June 8. Subsequently, on May 18, following the further deterioration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the alert level was raised to the third level and the alert period extended until June 14.
Taipei and New Taipei are now called “hotspots” because they are the two most infected cities in the country. In Taipei, infections are reported to be concentrated in Wanhua District, and in New Taipei in Banqiao District, respectively. As of May 29, the highest number of infections in Taipei was 990 in Wanhua District, which was 6 times as many as 163 in the second highest Wenshan District. Banqiao District, which has the highest number of infections in New Taipei, with 703, was followed by Zhonghe District with 466. At present, the infection situation in Wanhua and Banqiao Districts is the most worrisome. 
The “site of infection” was a major challenge in dealing with COVID-19 this time. Bars spread the infection even further because infected pilots went to “hostess bars.” However, it was difficult to track contacted people because bar staff were reluctant to admit the association with customers.
It’s not just bars. The above-mentioned “Wanhua District” in New Taipei City has become a more problematic area, so that it is misunderstood as the “epicenter” of this community-acquired infection. This is because Wanhua has a long history of being an “adult entertainment business” concentration area and there are many shops associated with gangsters. Infected sex workers tended to be reluctant to explain their background, lines of behavior, and business targets when questioned. As a result, it appears that this has hampered the investigation on the routes of infection and infection clusters related to Wanhua have not yet been resolved. In response, some media even used the expression, “Wanhua virus.” This led to protests from the residents of Wanhua for discrimination.
In fact, no less than 300 people are reported to be missing among infected people in New Taipei and Taipei. The breakdown is not clear, but it is probably related to the fact that people were in a place where they could not speak frankly.
3. Local government response
For the opposition parties, the latest community-acquired infection should be a good source of criticism against the ruling party. In fact, in the face of archenemy COVID-19, major local governments have basically taken joint action with the central government (specifically, the Central Epidemic Command Center) to prevent epidemics.
For example, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (Leader of the People’s Party), a doctor for several decades, has rarely criticized the Central Epidemic Command Center’s policies severely. In the wake of the spread of this community-acquired infection, he has only pointed out that the central government does not have enough vaccines. Hou You-yi (belonging to Nationalist Party), Mayor of New Taipei City, which is the most populous and adjacent to the capital, is also basically in step with the central government, although having proposed tougher measures to the Central Epidemic Command Center in euphemistic expressions. Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (belonging to Nationalist Party) of Taichung City, the second most populous, also seems to support the central government’s measures against COVID-19. However, as I will explain later, Nantou County and Kinmen County appear to be closer to the Chinese government than to the Tsai Ing-wen government in their position on measures against COVID-19.
4. Reaction of the international community
As mentioned at the beginning, since Taiwan was regarded as an “honor student in dealing with COVID-19,” with its continued control of the number of infections and deaths at low levels, its failure has caused concerns and disappointments in the international community.
For example, the BBC called the Taiwan success story just “A tale of complacency: Taiwan.” If things went a little better, it was reported that Taiwan’s low vaccination rate of 1% should be considered as a “lesson” for other countries. 
By the way, the reason for this spread of community-acquired infections is the low vaccination rate. In fact, as of May 21, Taiwan’s vaccination rate was only 1.2%, which was lower than that of the Philippines (3%), Japan (6.3%), South Korea (10.3%), India (13.6%) and China (32.4%). This is why the opposition parties are criticizing the Tsai Ing-wen government. In addition to the surprises overseas seen in the international media, some countries sent encouragement to Taiwan, which has become an “orphan in the world of health.”
On May 7, for example, U.S. Secretary of State A. Blinken issued a statement saying that there was no reason to exclude Taiwan from the WHA (World Health Assembly). The joint statement of the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting included the language “We support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in World Health Organization forums and the World Health Assembly.” In the case of Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato commented at a press conference on May 11, “We should not create a geographical vacuum in our response to international health issues, and Japan has consistently supported Taiwan’s observer status.” In addition, the Japanese government is reportedly now considering providing vaccines to Taiwan. 
On May 25, the U.S., Japanese, and Australian Representative organizations in Taiwan issued a joint press release expressing support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the work of the WHO and its observer participation in the WHA. Pointing out that Taiwan’s participation “will benefit our people and the world,” they appealed, “Now is the time to bring Taiwan into the fold.” 
5. Foreign enemy: China’s false goodwill and cruel isolation of Taiwan
China has tried to isolate Taiwan. COVID-19 is no exception. Since the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, Taiwan’s measures against COVID-19 have worked well, and the success story of Taiwanese citizens living in the same way as usual has become well known internationally, which must have won considerable sympathy from the international community. Nevertheless, Taiwan has yet to escape the world of health and welfare under China’s influence. This year, Taiwan’s participation in the WHA (in a video format), even as an observer, is impossible. Needless to say, this is China’s doing.
On May 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press conference, “There is only one China in the world. Taiwan district’s participation in the activities of international organizations, including the WHO, must be dealt with in accordance with the One China Principle. This is a fundamental principle confirmed in the UN Resolution 2758 and the related resolutions of the WHO,” adding, “The Chinese government has made appropriate arrangements for Taiwan district to engage in public health work for the world” “No country cares more about the health and welfare of Taiwanese people than China” (沒有誰比我們更加關心台灣同胞的健康福祉) and “Taiwan cannot participate in the WHA due to the DPP government.” In response, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ou Jiang-an accused China of having harmed the health of Taiwanese citizens and of openly lying in an attempt to mislead the international community. She refuted China’s claims, saying they were totally against facts and the international community’s recognition. 
On May 17, when the Tsai Ing-wen government announced that the entire nation would be under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 from the next day because the spread of community-acquired infections in Taiwan had not been contained, the Chinese government again took a soft stand. In a press conference on May 18, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson with the Taiwan Affairs Office of State Council, stated that “We’re ready to provide vaccines to Taiwanese compatriots” and “We want to help Taiwanese compatriots to overcome COVID-19.” In response, the Taiwanese government’s Mainland Affairs Council pushed back by issuing a statement saying, “The opposite side of the Strait [China] does not need to show false good intentions,” “We can obtain reliable vaccines from the international community if [the Chinese side] does not obstruct” and “If China really has human welfare in mind, it should not fly its military planes around Taiwan in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 
6. Hard and soft measures “mutually cancelling one another”
What the Mainland Affairs Council says seems to be right on the mark. It is precisely because of China’s obstruction that Taiwan cannot join international organizations. Moreover, Taiwan became unable to obtain the BNT COVID-19 vaccine (developed jointly by Pfizer Inc. of the United States and BioNTech SE of Germany) because of interference by China’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co., Ltd., which holds the distribution right of the BNT COVID-19 vaccine in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. Furthermore, the threat and sense of crisis, posed to Taiwanese society by PLA’s military flights around Taiwan, has made the “good faith” of China not believable. As I have just discussed in my article “Both Hard and Soft Measures Together? Or Hard and Soft Measures Mutually Cancelling One Another?” (published on March 13), China has believed that both hard and soft measures for Taiwan are effective, but in reality, hard measures are eroding soft ones, and as long as the former exist, the latter have no policy impact.
7. Internal concerns: Movement of opposition parties
Besides the vaccine offensive across the Taiwan Strait, there are also forces within Taiwan that obstruct COVID-19 quarantine operations. In addition, such forces are close to the Chinese side in their position, and their related moves seem to be coordinated with the Chinese side.
On May 11, Ting Shou-chung (who tried to run for Mayor of Taipei from the Nationalist Party, but failed in the primary) said that he would like to receive the Chinese vaccine. According to the National Security Bureau of Taiwan, the Chinese government ordered the PLA Cyber Unit, the Ministry of State Security, and the Taiwan Affairs Office to launch cognitive warfare against Taiwan around May 12 to 13. Although it cannot be confirmed whether the remarks made by Ting Shou-chung on May 11 are related to China, it is true that China took action after Ting’s remarks. On May 15, “China Review Service” in China reported that China could provide Taiwan with vaccines. On May 18, Yang Cheng-wu, Mayor of Kinmen County, called on the central government to allow Kinmen County to procure vaccines from China that were internationally recognized as safe. Hong Xiuzhu, former Chairperson of the Nationalist Party, said on May 22 that she wanted to negotiate with China to buy the vaccine. On May 24, furthermore, Wu Cheng-dian, Chairman of the New Party, said that he was told by the Chinese side that if he contacted the Chinese side, China would provide 100,000 doses of Chinese vaccines to the Kinmen County people. On the same day (May 24), Nantou County Mayor Lin Ming-chen said that the Taiwan Affairs Office of Zhejiang Province, China, had indicated (to him) its intention to cooperate with vaccine purchases. In response, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council announced that “The Shanghai Health and Medical Development Foundation and the Jiangsu Cross-Strait Cultural Exchange Promotion Association have said that they would like to donate vaccines to Taiwanese compatriots, which we will support and actively cooperate with.” On May 27, Jiang,Qi-chen, the leader of the Nationalist Party, wrote on his Facebook page that “The government should use the power of the private sector to expand the routes [for purchasing vaccines]” and “The government should make good use of well-meaning help.”
Looking at the above in chronological order, it seems as if the statements made by these politicians and the announcements by the Chinese government of its position are responding to each other. These people appear to make their statements as if following the pattern of China’s maneuvering against Taiwan to “negotiate with local governments whose head belongs to the Nationalist Party, while bypassing the central government led by the Democratic Progressive Party.”
That could drive a wedge between central and local areas in Taiwan, which the Chinese government wishes to see. It would also give “points” to these people. Now, it is a top priority for the opposition parties to earn political points. On the other hand, local elections are scheduled for next year (2022), while a local referendum called by the opposition parties (to ask whether the DPP government’s policy of importing U.S. pigs using Ractopamine is appropriate) to be held in August of this year. On the other hand, the approval rating of the DPP government remains at a relatively high level. Therefore, the opposition parties must be eager to take advantage of the spread of infections within the country to attack the DPP government by all means. In fact, to criticize the Tsai Ing-wen government, the National Party has prepared a 15-point “Fighting Manual” (教戦守則), and the Party publicly acknowledges its existence. 
8. A challenge called cognitive warfare
At present, the Taiwanese government is facing a major challenge. It is cognitive warfare. Cognitive warfare is a method of forming specific cognition, recognition, and emotion on a specific object through information manipulation. In order to carry out this warfare, it is necessary to transmit disinformation, which is regarded as a kind of public opinion war or information war.
Several cases of cognitive warfare have been identified since the outbreak of the community-acquired infection crisis. For example, when the army is sent to help disinfect towns, there is information “Disinfectants used by the army are highly toxic” and therefore, “Everyone, let’s close the windows at night,” creating a panic among citizens. 
In addition, when it was announced that the alert level of the Central Epidemic Command Center was to be raised (May 15), a news report appeared on the Internet saying that “Chen Shih-chung, the commander of the Central Epidemic Command Center, actually tried to raise the alert level as early as May 11, but delayed it to 15th at the request of the President of the Executive Yuan,” as if there was an internal conflict within the government. 
Responding to such a series of false information incidents, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng warned that based on information provided by national security agencies, China “has launched cognitive warfare against Taiwan to disrupt our society” taking advantage of the spread of COVID-19 crisis. Deputy Secretary-General Lee Chun-yi of Presidential Office (equivalent to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary), also warned of China’s cognition warfare, citing four objectives: (1) “causing inconsistency within Taiwan”; (2) “delaying improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic”; (3) “delaying production”; and (4) “disturbing the stock market and other economic activities.” 
In today’s world, it is extremely difficult for the government to respond effectively to the “invisible enemy” of the coronavirus. In the case of Taiwan, in addition to the virus, the government should also deal with challenges from opposition parties. The Tsai Ing-wen government is indeed facing multiple challenges.
The experience of Taiwan in dealing with COVID-19 has been widely reported until just recently, and to a certain extent has served as a reference for the international community. Taiwan has not overcome the crisis yet. In the future, I strongly hope that Taiwan’s experience of struggle will benefit countries that have faced China’s vaccine diplomacy.
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