When it comes to Beijing, politics motivates everything, writes J. Michael Cole in Nikkei Asia.
By J. Michael Cole, March 3, 2021
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, the Chinese Communist Party and some of its ideological allies in Taiwan have unremittingly politicized health issues to further Beijing’s agenda.
It was not just that the Chinese regime denied that the virus originated in Wuhan and that its spread to every corner of the planet resulted from an initial cover-up. As the pandemic spread, the CCP played politics with global health by using its influence to exclude Taiwan — a front-line state in the battle against the virus — from the World Health Organization and browbeat countries that accepted assistance from Taiwan.
Throughout the crisis, the CCP has relied on a handful of Taiwanese businesspeople based in China, as well as Taiwanese politicians and disinformation, to attempt to sabotage the performance of Taiwan’s health authorities and that of the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen.
Thus far, the administration has succeeded in mitigating the effects of Chinese interference and disinformation surrounding COVID-19. Its highly efficient and preemptive handling of the pandemic has been hailed as a model by the international community. At this writing, the country has recorded 942 infections, the great majority of them imported, and nine deaths. It has accomplished this without a lockdown, thereby avoiding any damage to its economy.
A cluster of local infections at a hospital in Taoyuan earlier this year, which resulted in a handful of infections and one death, led to a new wave of attacks by opposition politicians and meddling by Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian, who accused Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-Chung, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center chief and one of the heroes of Taiwan’s response to the pandemic, of being “ignorant” and “playing politics” with the lives of the Taiwanese people.
Much of the invective by opposition Kuomintang politicians, along with the pro-Beijing outlets and CCP officials whose views they have often echoed, has centered on Chen. Some of this ostensibly stems from domestic politics, as it is rumored that the CECC chief could be a candidate in the mayoral elections in late 2022. This crass politicking has often given the impression that the KMT wishes Taiwan had not fared so well during the pandemic. One can only speculate how Taiwan would have fared in the pandemic had the KMT candidate in the 2020 presidential elections, the erratic Han Kuo-yu, defeated Tsai.