Ejected from the United Nations in 1971. Exhausted all efforts last year to rally support for WHO membership. Although, at present, it is now in conflict with the organization it previously aspired to become a member of. Despite opposition and non-recognition, Taiwan is doing a great job in managing the pandemic inside its island-territory.

(Photo from https://www.facebook.com/TECO.PHL/)

So far, analysts have noted various factors behind Taiwan’s success in containing the spread of COVID-19 among its populace. Among these are mandatory and strict quarantine protocols, mass testing, big data analytics, resource integration for medical equipment production, and smart technology for tracking and tracing. As nearby countries particularly in Southeast Asia grapple whether to maintain, modify or totally lift their lockdowns as they balance the trade-off between public health security and economic concerns, Taiwan has been leading the fight in its attempts to export its model to other countries in addressing the threat of viral transmission towards its population.

Knowledge transfers are not novel phenomena. It is a part of development cooperation work performed by each country’s embassies since international cooperation does not only entail financial or material exchanges. It also involves technical cooperation between states consisting of human capital and assets, expertise, and other aspects of the so-called knowledge economy. In this regard, Taiwan can consider itself as a nation possessing this comparative advantage. However, the case of Taiwan offers underappreciated opportunities for cooperation as engagement with Taiwan presents the following potential avenues to utilize.

First, despite the limitations imposed by the One China Policy which requires states to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the duly legitimate government of the Chinese nation, engagements with Taiwan still possess various flexibilities. If one will notice, Taiwan representative offices and its counterparts are never called as embassies. Usually, they are called as trade or cultural centers. Depending on the country, these offices are usually registered as private organizations since having these offices subject to the authority of the Foreign Affairs office will give the impression that a certain government gives an amount of official recognition to the counterpart government of Taiwan. Although still playing inside the framework imposed by the One China Policy and since these offices are private entities, they have the flexibility to pursue innovative projects and out-of-the-box initiatives escaping bureaucratic hurdles and internal politics these offices will face if they happened to become under the watch of specific government ministry.

Second, related to the first premise, since these representative offices are private in nature, they also have the option to pursue agreements with other private entities. In this regard, this is where the organizations of Taiwan’s private sector enter. Representative offices of countries engaging Taiwan are not confined to the diplomatic protocol of solely communicating with the Taiwan representative office. Also, it must be also noted that Taiwan’s civil society organizations, particularly those with interests beyond the borders of their home country, are also explicit in their statements expressing autonomy from government control. While they appreciate and welcome possible governmental support and assistance, they are firm in their resolve that they will not allow themselves to be confined to the agenda of the Taiwanese government as they also have their respective philanthropic priorities. Take the case of the Edu-Connect Southeast Asia Association, a civil society organization based in Kaohsiung City.

Officially founded in 2015, the Edu-Connect Southeast Asia Association has been consistent in its efforts to link Southern Taiwan universities to Philippine universities not only for purposes of university internationalization needed by higher educational institutions to climb up in the annual world rankings, but also to promote their industry-city-university-entrepreneur (ICUE) linkage model in the Philippines. Since last year, the Edu-Connect is bringing two delegations of Southern Taiwan professors and businessmen annually to meet with university, local government and business counterparts for possible partnerships and collaborations in the future. In addition, the Edu-Connect has also brought delegation of experts as Taiwan’s embodiment of helping hand in various development issues in the country. For example, last June 27, 2019, the organization brought disaster resiliency experts from the National University of Kaohsiung (NUK) to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Mandaluyong to introduce to various local government officials the disaster management model of Kaohsiung City since they are confident that the mechanisms possessed by their resiliency model is compatible to the Philippine context. If not for the disastrous effects brought by the pandemic, the Edu-Connect is also set to bring additional two delegations this year. One aims to introduce the setnet technology developed by marine science experts from the National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology (NKUST) while the other is a group of medical and public health experts from medical universities to introduce the best practices performed by Taiwan’s healthcare system – which was lauded as one of the best in the world! Thus, from this vantage, countries can benefit from Taiwan not only through interaction with its governmental representatives but also via engagement with some of its civil society and humanitarian organizations.

Lastly, between China and Taiwan, it is more costly to engage with the former. Why? As you’ve noticed in the media reports from the previous years, China has a number of demands. Strict compliance to bilateral negotiations. Use or lease of government property. Exportation of its own citizens to work for China-funded projects in the receiving country. And many more. While it is undeniable that Taiwan also has its own interests similar to China, Taiwan’s interests vis-à-vis with a Southeast Asian country is not exponentially asymmetrical. Taiwan was never explicit and straightforward with its objective for other countries to recognize its sovereignty. Instead, Taiwan’s interests are usually inclined to mutual benefit. For example, as Taiwan is willing to share business technology and technical assistance particularly in its smart agricultural sector, some of its demands for reciprocity are its need for workforce to take care of its industries gradually abandoned by its aging society, and demand for English-language teachers for its objective to become a bilingual society by 2030. Indeed, cooperation with Taiwan entails lesser stakes for states to gamble.

The virus that our world is currently facing is not a rational, conscious entity discerning between politics and protocol. It is necessary for state leaders to temporarily set aside divisions to ease the burden imposed by pandemic to the daily lives of every person around the world regardless of nationality. At the end of the day, security is no longer about state survival. Modern-day security is concerned to well-being of the human person. Thus, in order to protect the innate dignity of every human person in the planet affected by this global pandemic, it is necessary for every leader to take advantage of any assistance offered to them.

Taiwan can help.

Taiwan can truly help.

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