With close to 2.2 million people infected and more than 150 thousand deaths around the world, as well as a global economic slowdown, Covid-19 is composing a grave challenge to human society. The whole world has been fighting against this fierce pandemic. While many countries are still struggling hard to curtail further transmissions and save lives, some have vindicated their counter-spread approaches effectively by showing a slow escalating curve of new cases and the comparatively low rate of death, such as South Korea, Germany, Singapore and Taiwan. Noteworthy is the performance of India and Taiwan on their respective efforts. India and Taiwan are very different as far as the size of territory and demography is concerned.
Naturally, the actions and approaches both countries having applied respectively in combating Covid-19 have not been alike. However, India and Taiwan have shown fairly effective in curtailing the rapid spread of the disease and lowering the death to the lowest extent. On 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a resolute and decisive determination of national lockdown for 21 days that has effectively cumbered the fast spread and gained invaluable time for consummate preparedness for anti epidemic and life-saving deployment.
This can be seen clearly from tangible statistics. In India, the cases went up from 750 to 3,000 in eight days. In the UK, cases went up from 750 to 3,000 in six days. The data also shows that India has only nine Covid-19 patients per million population, which is far lesser than other countries. After the first phase lockdown was up on 14 April 2020, continued efforts have been seen by extending the lockdown to 3 May. Prime Minister Modi’s team actively deployed medical personnel, procured from foreign countries and allocated medical supplies such as ventilators, PPEs, rapid test kits across the country, and coordinated to schedule phased lifts. In the past 60 years and more, Taiwan has overcome outbreaks of cholera, malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases, accumulating considerable experience and established an extensive disease prevention mechanism. Preventive measures at each working level have been further fine-tuned after the SARS outbreak in 2003. Since the cases of unknown pneumonia in Wuhan, China had been notified to the WHO, Taiwan’s central and local governments coordinated with the private sector to take proactive and early actions to jointly prevent the spread of this disease. Closely neighbouring to the epicentre Wuhan, China, there have been far fewer locally transmitted cases in Taiwan than in many other developed countries, testifying to Taiwan’s effective disease prevention efforts and internationally recognised standards of medical service. During battling with the pandemic, both India and Taiwan took initiative to render assistances to the international community.
Prime Minister Modi invited leaders of the SAARC member states to attend a video conference on 15 March 2020, sharing India’s experience of containing the spread of this virus, announced India will set up a Covid-19 emergency fund with an initial corpus of $10 million that can be used by all SAARC members, and put its rapid response team of doctors and specialists on standby to be deployed across the region. Global outbreak was accompanied by a rising global demand of Hydroxychloroquine, a drug yet to be proved effective for curing this disease. India supplies 80-85 per cent of this drug globally. With cases spiking in India, Prime Minister Modi’s government announced that it would help countries in need by exporting Hydroxychloroquin and paracetamol to clear all exiting orders. In early April 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) announced to donate a total of 16 million face masks and other medical supplies to the United States, European Union member states and other European nations, diplomatic allies and 18 countries across Indo-Pacific including India to support medical personnel in containing Covid-19.
Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, leading vaccine manufacturers, universities, hospitals, NGOs have been invited to many video conferences with partners in the US, the EU, India, the Czech Republic and Canada to share experience in prevention and containment. The outbreak of the coronavirus exposed the vulnerability of putting all eggs in one basket — heavily depending on one or limited sources to provide key components. In the post-Covid world, the global supply chains will be inevitably restructured. Both India and Taiwan, in addition to focusing on capacity building, should look carefully for an advantageous position in the post-Covid global supply chains and figure out a strategy for cooperating as partners. India and Taiwan are natural partners in trade and industrial cooperative relationship. Taiwan has been good in hardware manufacturing, while India has been a champion in the development of the software. India, with demographic advantages, plays an important role in connecting the Southeast, West Asian and European market.
There has been enormous room for bilateral cooperation to be further strengthened given the extraordinary positions India and Taiwan enjoy in the global economy. Due to the trade war between the US and China and the strength of attraction for investment in China has been weakened significantly in recent years, Taiwanese companies which have been investing in China are turning towards Southeast and South Asia for opportunities of investment. Since assuming the presidency of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in May 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen has initiated the “New Southbound Policy” to enhance cooperation and exchanges between Taiwan and 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand. In 2014, Prime Minister Modi launched the “Act East Policy” to intensify economic, strategic and diplomatic relations with countries that share common interest with India. There is an enormous intersection between the “New Southbound Policy” and the “Act East Policy”. Their rendezvous will definitely make a brilliant spark and produce countless opportunities for cooperation and creating wealth for India and Taiwan. On 7 February 2020, in his reply to a motion in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Modi said: “India is pursuing a dream of a $5 trillion economy with full speed and full potential, the aim of a $5 trillion economy was ambitious but the country would have to think big and move ahead to realise the goal, the government was focusing on village and city infrastructure, MSMEs, textiles, technology and tourism to fulfill the dream.”
The sectors Prime Minister Modi mentioned in his remarks in the Lok Sabha for India’s economic development such as: village and city infrastructure, MSMEs, textiles, technology and tourism are all Taiwan’s strong fields. The governments and the business communities on both sides should cooperate more closely to lead and provide assistance to Taiwanese companies which invested in China to move to India. India and Taiwan signed Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) and “Agreement on Mutually Recognizing Authorized Economic Operators” in 2018, laying a solid foundation for Taiwanese companies to invest in India. It seems essential that the Government of India makes some more efforts such as: (1) coordinating local authorities to unify and expedite the registration process for companies; (2) providing appropriate incentives in tax and custom; to encourage Taiwanese companies to invest and take root in India. Both India and Taiwan are democratic countries, bonded by shared values of freedom, democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.
We have witnessed growing bilateral cooperation and exchanges in a wide array of fields and the investment from Taiwan in India has grown significantly in recent years, yet there is still enormous room for growth. The outbreak of Covid-19 has revealed many areas such as Internet commerce, on line interactions, biomedical technology for cooperation in the future. It is foreseeable that with our continued joint efforts and cooperation, India and Taiwan will grow stronger and more prosperous in the post-Covid Asia. Chung-Kwang Tien is Taiwan’s Ambassador to India.