A fascinating back story has emerged in the worldwide campaign against the deadly Ebola virus.
It involves Taiwan, a country I’ve visited five times since 1989. It’s a highly developed, modern, technologically advanced country of some 25 million people packed onto an island of less than 14,000 square miles.
Taiwan is now playing a key role in combating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It is sending medical teams into the infected regions, lending aid and expertise. It’s also planning a stepped-up effort to protect its own population against any possible outbreak.
According to an essay written by Kent Wang, a Taiwanese foreign policy official: “Relevant agencies have been directed to remain on high alert as Taiwan needs to prepare for the worst. While no cases have been reported to date, Taipei is taking every precaution. This includes strengthened entry inspections, health education, international collaboration and quarantine exercises. Taiwan CDC had set up an emergency response team August 8 and organized three expert consultation meetings and 1,212 training sessions for more than 100,000 medical professionals and individuals.”
So, what’s the back story?
Taiwan doesn’t belong to the World Health Organization. It does have “observer status,” meaning that it can peer over WHO’s shoulder, but doesn’t reap any of the real benefit of actual membership. It’s been blackballed from joining the WHO by the People’s Republic of China, which still claims Taiwan as a “renegade province.” You see, Taiwan broke away from China in 1949 after the communists took control of the mainland government. Taiwan’s government set up shop on the island, made Taipei its capital, then set about building a first-rate economy.
The nations co-existed in a virtual state of war for decades. Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations after the U.N. recognized China in the early 1970s. The United States broke off diplomatic ties with Taipei when it set up its embassy in Beijing during the Carter administration.
There’s a certain irony today with Taiwan emerging as a key Asian player in the Ebola struggle. A nation that has been expelled from relevant worldwide health organizations is being seen as a leader in fighting an emerging health menace.