April 30: COVID-19 and Taiwan’s Role in Global Governance

April 30: COVID-19 and Taiwan’s Role in Global Governance

Date: Thursday, April 30
Time: Noon – 1:30pm (EST)
Live Webcast

Event Description

Amid the novel Coronavirus global pandemic—medically known as COVID-19—Taiwan’s response has been held up by many in the international community for its effectiveness and because of the island’s proximity to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While some commentators have glorified the “China Model” for Beijing’s response to the pandemic, others, including the United States, have held up the “Taiwan Model” for the democracy’s successful response to the pandemic that originated from across the Strait. As COVID-19 upended communities throughout the globe, the health and economic fallouts from the pandemic have also exposed weaknesses in the global governance systems. One glaring gap laid bare by the current crisis has been Taiwan’s exclusion from the world healthy body designed to lead global health response and highlights how cross-Strait relations can have international repercussions beyond the possibility of military conflict. This virtual seminar will discuss how the United States and Taiwan are cooperating to combat COVID-19, the “Taiwan Model” versus the “China Model.” and its implications for global governance.

The event webcast will be broadcasted live here on Thursday, April 30 at noon (EST). Questions for the panel may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 


Vincent Chao is the Director of the Political Division at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States. Prior to this role, he served in Taiwan’s National Security Council, Office of the President, and most recently as chief of staff to the Foreign Minister.

Lanhee J. Chen, Ph.D. is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution and Director of Domestic Policy Studies and Lecturer in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University. 

Russell Hsiao (moderator) is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and editor-in-chief of the Global Taiwan Brief. He is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum.

Jonathan Fritz is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian & Pacific Affairs responsible for China, Mongolia, and Taiwan coordination. Before that, he was the Director for Bilateral & Regional Affairs in the State Department’s Office of International Communications & Information Policy.

Mike Mazza is the Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Global Taiwan Institute, Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Non-Resident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Event Summary

On April 30, 2020, the Global Taiwan Institute hosted its first ever virtual seminar, titled “COVID-19 and Taiwan’s Role in Global Governance.” The event, moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao, featured a panel of experts, including Vincent Chao of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representation Office (TECRO), Dr. Lanhee Chen of the Hoover Institution, and Michael Mazza of GTI and the American Enterprise Institute. Notably, the panel discussion was preceded by a pre-recorded opening address from Dr. Hsu Szu-chien, Taiwan’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs. To begin, Hsiao gave a brief overview of Taiwan’s successful battle against the coronavirus, outlined the “Taiwan Model” of disease control as compared to the “China Model,” and set the stage for a larger discussion on Taiwan’s role in the international response to the virus.

In Deputy Minister Hsu’s pre-recorded address, he provided a comprehensive summary of Taiwan’s efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. From his perspective, the success of these measures has been linked to the whole-of-society approach that the Taiwanese government has pursued. The effectiveness of this strategy was bolstered by the Taiwanese public that took the threat seriously and followed the government directives. Hsu highlighted the government’s continuing emphasis on transparency and accountability, which have helped to improve public trust in the national leadership. He also highlighted the part technology has played in facilitating the Taiwanese response. Finally, Hsu provided his thoughts on Taiwan’s role in the international community, arguing that the island has been largely excluded from global multilateral organizations (particularly the World Health Organization), weakening the international response as a whole. Maintaining that “infectious diseases know no borders,” he lamented that the WHO and many others had prioritized political agendas over public health.

Subsequently, Hsiao gave a brief introduction of the panelists before starting off the discussion with Vincent Chao. Chao, the Director of the Political Division at TECRO, provided insight into Taiwan’s perspective on the coronavirus outbreak. From the outset, he emphasized the impressive results of Taiwan’s fight against the virus to date. Despite having a densely packed population of over 23 million people, Taiwan has experienced fewer infections than many far smaller states, demonstrating the effectiveness of its containment measures. Clearly, he argued, Taiwan has proven that it has much to offer the rest of the world. Thus far, Taiwan has provided a great deal of assistance to other countries by sharing best practices and donating large numbers of masks and protective equipment. Chao contended that Taiwan could contribute much more if it was allowed to participate fully in the international response.

Following Chao’s overview of the Taiwanese perspective, Dr. Lanhee Chen of the Hoover Institution gave his thoughts on the WHO’s response from the United States’ viewpoint. To begin, he argued that the organization has gradually begun prioritizing political considerations over international public health, drastically reducing its effectiveness. Nevertheless, he was quick to note that the WHO has been very effective during past health crises, notably during the SARS epidemic of 2002-03. However, the last two decades have seen a progressive decline in the organization’s efficacy, culminating with its current mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Chen, this decline was the result of changes in leadership, as well as a significant increase in Chinese influence in the organization. While he clarified that the WHO was not solely to blame for the current crisis, he argued that it had played a major role.

In response to this, Michael Mazza of GTI and the American Enterprise Institute provided a more security-focused look at the impact of the pandemic on cross-Strait relations. In addition to the crisis’ massive impact on the global economy, he argued that it could potentially inject further uncertainty into the tense relationship between Taiwan and China. As the People’s Republic of China (PRC) fights to protect its faltering global image, Taiwan has seen its international reputation grow immensely. For Beijing, Mazza argued, this dynamic is unacceptable. While he highlighted the difficulty of predicting Beijing’s future plans, he provided four potential scenarios. These ranged from a weakened Xi Jinping lashing out at Taiwan to unify the Chinese Communist Party to an emboldened China seizing the opportunity to unify China once and for all. Notably, each of these scenarios depicted a dangerous future for Taiwan, in which its international space is further eroded or eliminated completely.

Following the discussion, the panel took several questions from Hsiao and the audience. In response to a question on the role of the US in the post-pandemic world, Chen argued that the future of the US’ foreign policy in Asia is defined by uncertainty. As China is likely to become a campaign issue during the 2020 election, it is unlikely that a clear policy agenda will emerge until after the pandemic. Subsequently, Chao responded to a question about future US-Taiwan cooperation on health matters by outlining three key features of Taiwan’s current pandemic response: transparency, technology, and teamwork. Together, these could serve as a template for future US-Taiwan cooperative responses. On global governance issues, the panelists argued that Taiwan could—and should—play a much larger role in a wide range of international organizations, such as the International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO) and INTERPOL. However, overwhelming Chinese influence in many of these institutions—as exemplified by the PRC’s seat in the UN Human Rights Council—hinder Taiwan’s inclusion and meaningful participation. The United States and Taiwan should work with likeminded countries in Europe and elsewhere to support Taiwan’s international participation and the impact of the recent passage of the TAIPEI Act remains to be seen. According to the panel, the benefits of including Taiwan in international governing organizations are clear, but the path to doing so is considerably less so.

To receive all our updates directly in your inbox you can subscribe by pressing the button below.