OPINION: Taiwan’s Future Depends on Using the Covid-19 Spotlight Wisely

OPINION: Taiwan’s Future Depends on Using the Covid-19 Spotlight Wisely
Photo Credit: Reuters/TPG Images
What you need to know

Taiwan shouldn't just focus on the WHO. A greater opportunity presented by Taiwan's response to Covid-19 lies in drawing and retaining competitive talent.

By Patrick Ng

Taiwan’s rise on the global stage is a result of its government’s success in controlling Covid-19, its response to inflammatory accusations by the Director-General of the World Health Organization, and its generosity during the pandemic.

Tsai Ing-wen’s government has utilized the country’s greatest soft power asset, healthcare, to forge a leadership role in the crisis. The goodwill engendered further supports the signing of the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act (TAIPEI Act) in the United States. Politicians worldwide are supportive of Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization.

Taiwan’s continued efforts to provide pandemic aid has raised the country’s international influence. Although the government could capitalize on improved global relations in a bid for greater recognition of its sovereignty, it would be shortsighted to make this its sole focus.

For Taiwanese people to benefit from this presence on the world stage, a greater opportunity lies in drawing and retaining competitive talent.

In March, international journalists were forced out of China. This creates an opening for Taiwan to proactively recruit journalists displaced by China’s policies. Foreign press corps offer international audiences a more locally nuanced perspective on global news. Increased coverage of Taiwanese affairs by a variety of trusted news organizations would generate more awareness of the intensifying Taiwan-China conflict as well as the broader Taiwanese experience. This may have prevented the publication of a subsequently retracted BBC story on substandard quarantine conditions. The foreign minister’s tweet welcoming foreign press to Taiwan as an alternative to China falls short of the more substantive investment the country can make to establish an East Asia base for foreign press corps.

At the same time, a number of multinational companies are reevaluating their China-based operations and headquarters. Taiwan ought to seize this opportunity. Given its geographically central location in Asia, Taiwan is already an ideal base, with shipping ports and direct air travel to many international destinations. Now, the country’s proven ability to effectively manage a pandemic further increases its appeal to capital and labor.

Thanks to the country’s data-driven containment measures, most businesses outside of the travel and hospitality related-industries here have remained open and operational without a negative impact on disease incidence. Taiwan’s open and transparent communication during the outbreak reassures businesses that they will have the information needed to make informed and forward-looking decisions. Financial incentives for multinational corporations relocating from China should be considered as part of Taiwan’s Covid-19 aid packages.

In recent decades, top talent in Taiwan has left the island for jobs abroad, particularly in China. Higher pay and greater potential for advancement have been primary drivers. Given the precipitous decline in the country’s birth rate and aging labor force, there is a critical need to retain local talent and draw international talent. The calculus for leaving the island may begin to shift as Taiwan is viewed as a safer and more secure location. Trust that the government will take proper and decisive action to protect its population may convince Taiwanese nationals living abroad to return.

Finally, both international and local students may have increased interest in pursuing studies in Taiwan. As one of only six countries in the world where schools and universities remain open for face-to-face classes, education officials can point to the country’s capacity to skillfully train and graduate students on time. In particular, graduate-level students in engineering, science, and health-related professions who require exposure to labs, equipment, and patients, can continue their training without interruption. Much of this research and training is not possible or available through a virtual environment.

Furthermore, other countries’ emergency adoption of virtual learning in such short notice will likely require additional time and resources to create high quality online education. Students in Taiwan thus have a time advantage over peers in other countries. Students from foreign institutions may also be interested in learning from Taiwan’s infectious disease strategies and may identify Taiwan as a top choice for health-related exchange programs. Additional academic and research partnerships between Taiwan’s public health institutions and other foreign entities would further strengthen the country’s international relationships.

The government would be prudent to look beyond the short-term lure of solely pursuing participation in the WHO. While important, there are even more pressing matters directly in the country’s control. Taiwan has a unique opportunity, but a limited window, to transform its Covid-19 accolades into the basis for long-term economic growth.

Patrick Ng works at The New School for Leadership in Healthcare at the Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center in Taipei.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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