Taiwan has been uplifted by Japan’s donation of 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but it is disheartening to see central and local governments divided in their pandemic responses.
Soon after Japan’s plan to deliver the vaccines was reported by foreign media, certain local media began touting the central government’s low-profile arrangements in making the delivery possible, citing anonymous sources from high-ranking national security agencies. Japan’s donation is heartwarming, and no one would question the central government’s achievement in negotiating with Japan for this aid. Nonetheless, the nation has its own battles to fight. Additional medical resources are of no avail if the central and local governments do not put aside their political differences and work closely to contain the pandemic, a lesson that Taiwan should have learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers on Thursday pointed their fingers at New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), accusing him of not doing enough to contain the municipality’s COVID-19 outbreak.
When they chose to openly attack a local mayor in a battle that demands unity and coordination, they betrayed their attempt to strive for the power of discourse over the pandemic. Likewise, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) is being engaged in meaningless arguments with local governments of outlying islands when it should be coordinating the nation’s efforts.
The CECC on Tuesday abruptly reversed decisions by the Kinmen, Lienchiang and Penghu county governments to require all arriving tourists to undergo rapid virus screening. Although many local residents had expressed support for the plans, the CECC said that the governments had contravened the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法) by not obtaining its approval beforehand.
The Kinmen County Government said it had twice reported to the CECC without receiving a response, raising questions as to whether the CECC only cared about power centralization without attending to the needs of other regions. While the Kinmen government persists in its rapid screening plan at its airport, the Kinmen Hospital, which is operated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, on Wednesday pledged its loyalty to the CECC and stopped supporting virus screening at the airport.
Such a tug-of-war between central and local governments does nothing to promote disease control, but lays bare the nasty power struggles between ruling and opposition parties, given that all three outlying counties are governed by KMT commissioners.
By contrast, DPP Hsinchu Mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) was given immediate help with his plans to contain a cluster infection at an electronics company in the city and owns plants in neighboring Miaoli County.
Lin on Friday wrote on Facebook that he had called President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to request help from the military, with Tsai promising swift assistance. Lin said he soon after received a call from Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) to make arrangements.
While Lin’s efforts to protect the city’s semiconductor suppliers were applauded, it is questionable if KMT mayors would be able to directly request such support from the president, who is also the DPP chairperson.
The CECC has since May 20 been holding daily meetings with local governments and hosting post-meeting news conferences to report their decisions, but it is doubtful if such actions are truly effective.
When local COVID-19 outbreaks in Taipei and New Taipei City show no sign of declining, and new outbreaks are reported from other regions, the party that rules the central government should expend more effort in solving problems instead of self-promoting.
Over the past year, scores of gargantuan Chinese sand dredgers have deployed themselves in territorial waters off the Taiwanese-administered Matsu Islands, where their activities erode beaches and ruin fishing shoals. These Chinese ships are mercenary; a small 5,000 ton ship could sell a load of sand for the equivalent of US$55,000 to Fujian construction firms — or to the People’s Liberation Army for use in building its artificial reefs in the South China Sea. They also frustrate Taiwan’s government, which tries unsuccessfully to cooperate with Beijing on environmental stewardship of their contiguous waters. Each day, Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels can
On Monday last week, a formation of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes flew over the South China Sea near Malaysian Borneo and intruded into the airspace of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Although it was not the first incursion into Malaysian airspace by Chinese military aircraft, it was the first time such a large formation had been dispatched by China. It was yet another worrying indication that Beijing senses an opportunity to aggressively shape the post-COVID-19 world in its own image and has stepped up its plans to expand the frontiers of its empire well beyond the limits of its
With Taiwan’s COVID-19 “ring of steel” breached, the public is demanding vaccines, and politicians are calling for vaccine imports to be expedited. However, the manner in which the debate is being conducted leaves much to be desired. Some people believe that companies and nonprofit groups should be allowed to import vaccines. This is not as simple as it sounds. The mRNA vaccines made by Moderna and BioNTech need to be stored at extremely low temperatures during their transportation from overseas manufacturing plants to the clinics that administer them. Regarding the BioNTech vaccine, its export from the EU requires complex paperwork and procedures.
With more controversies upsetting the nation’s fight against COVID-19, government agencies need to regain the public’s confidence. Being more transparent would be a good start. Over the past week, several politicians have apologized for failing to prevent more COVID-19 deaths, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). They must be frustrated to see their globally acclaimed victory from last year being denounced. However, their apologies must ring hollow to the grieving families and those who have no access to rapid testing kits or COVID-19 vaccines. To make matters worse, a Taipei-based clinic