Get informed about Taiwan

We are now in the fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic, but Taiwan is still doing well at home while donating millions of masks and sharing its experience and research with other countries.

To help people know more about Taiwan, I’ve started a weekly newsletter called Taiwan Unraveled, which aims to unravel and unpack Taiwan in terms of politics, business, culture, tech, and sports. Check it out and sign up if you want to get a weekly list of the best articles about Taiwan.

To give you a taste, I’ve listed links to some of the best recent articles featured in the newsletter:

One of the major actions Taiwan took was to take control of facemask production and distribution. Thanks to this, Taiwan was able to ensure enough for its people as well as to donate millions to the world. But first, the authorities had to put together a team to ramp up daily facemask production in January. This article tells the fascinating story of a “national team” of engineers and technicians made this possible.

In March, I wrote about how Taiwan managed to successfully contain the coronavirus, employing a multifaceted approach that included early flight screening and travel restrictions, proactive measures including facemask production above, and the use of tech.

One of the biggest signs of how well Taiwan is functioning is that its baseball league was the first to start play in April, which has made sport-starved baseball fans in the US happy. Baseball is Taiwan’s most popular team sport and has a long history in Taiwan, having been introduced by the Japanese almost 100 years ago. The games were originally played behind closed doors, but on Friday (May 8), up to 1,000 fans were allowed into stadiums, making the Taiwan baseball league the only one now with live fans.

There are four reasons for Taiwan to look forward to the future, including a decent economy, better recognition from the world, stronger relations with the US and a growing “normalization” of Taiwan’s identity as a country.

Taiwan is becoming a haven for Hong Kong activists, as exemplified by the reopening of Causeway Bay Bookstore in Taipei by Hong Konger Lam Wing-kee. Lam was one of five booksellers who were kidnapped by Chinese agents in 2015 in Hong Kong and Thailand, secretly taken to China, and detained. Their crime? Selling books in the original Causeway Bay Bookstore about Chinese politics that were unavailable in the mainland but popular with Chinese tourists visiting Hong Kong.

Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s biggest southern city, widely considered the country’s second city (though population-wise it has been overtaken by Taichung). The port city is trying to develop a tech sector while building several major arts and tourism attractions along its waterfront.

Kavalan is a Taiwanese whisky brand that has quietly become one of the best in the world. The whisky is distilled in Taiwan’s northeast, where the local climate with winds blowing in from the Pacific is especially favorable.

National coronavirus success stories

The coronavirus pandemic still has a grip on most of the world and our lives, but there are a few bright spots. After over three months, here are a few countries in Asia and Oceania that are succeeding in one way or another in containing their respective outbreaks and resuming some parts of normal life.

Taiwan
I might be biased since I’m very pro-Taiwan and reside here, but the fact is much of society is still functioning like normal. This includes schools, offices and stores, as well as sports! As I’ve written before, Taiwan’s response includes early vigilance, proactive measures and transparency, as well as cooperation with private firms on making much more facemasks than normal. Taiwan did experience a small surge of imported cases from visitors and returnees coming back from the West in March, as well as a naval ship cluster, but they have had many days with zero or just one or two daily cases.

Vietnam
Remarkably, this country of over 90 million has less than 300 cases and no deaths due to the coronavirus. They did do a partial lockdown but there’s already talk of easing it. And just like Taiwan, taking early measures like shutting their land border with China and mass quarantining helped a lot. The one factor that hinders more recognition of Vietnam’s success is that as a Communist country, the government controls all information and the media is restricted and censored. There is a likelihood that the actual numbers might be higher but even then, not by too much, according to some experts.

South Korea
In contrast to the two countries above, South Korea got hit really hard by the coronavirus and at one point, had the second-most cases in the world. But despite over 10,000 cases, they implemented rigorous measures like mass testing, contact tracing, and public mask-wearing, and have managed to “flatten the curve” to the point where they only get low double-digit daily cases now. The public also played a big role as they voluntarily stayed home or closed down their businesses without being ordered to, so in a sense they did have a lockdown but it was a self-enforced one. South Korea might arguably be the most impressive success story because they actually experienced a mass outbreak within a short time and seem to have defeated it.

Australia and New Zealand
As the only non-Asian countries here, the two neighbors both enacted hard lockdowns but have reached the point where easing is being discussed and even a “bubble” involving the two countries. Both countries have managed to clamp down on daily infections and keep the death toll at a minimum, which is laudable. New Zealand implemented a lockdown when there were only 102 cases, which has helped them contain their outbreak. Australia implemented a lockdown much later (when they had over 4000 cases) but in the weeks since then have also managed to contain the outbreak at a reasonable level. In both countries, widespread testing and contact tracing were implemented. New Zealand did reference Taiwan as an example, which is why they did the smart thing of cancelling mass gatherings very early, unlike some Western countries which continued to hold large sporting events and concerts until their outbreaks hit hard.

Hong Kong
At one point in February, HK was being likened to a failed state due to being a state of panic over the coronavirus and a perceived lack of toilet paper and instant noodles. But HK soon got past that and has reached a point where, like Taiwan, they have enjoyed zero-cases days. HK people do love wearing their masks, maybe overly so, but it has helped with containing the coronavirus so that there have been no hard lockdowns. Schools have been closed since February and there are social distancing limits on restaurants and public gatherings though. And like South Korea and Taiwan, rigorous quarantine measures and contact tracing have also been implemented.

 

No matter what, it’s still necessary to stay on guard and keep up precautionary measures, even here in Taiwan, and the situation could easily change quickly.
For now, hats off to all these countries (and Hong Kong) for beating back the coronavirus and let’s hope that more countries can follow in these countries’ footsteps soon.

Writing about a dismal 2020 so far

As we move into the third month of 2020, it’s becoming clear that this year might not be better than 2019 as many of us may have hoped. It’s almost like there’s no good news as the China/Wuhan coronavirus spreads across Europe and the US, stock markets are crashing, entire places are becoming locked down, and even sports, that most traditional and dependable form of escapism from real life, is being seriously affected.

It’s in keeping with this theme of gloominess and pessimism that I’ve written a few articles so far, which I’ve bolded below. Back in the innocent days of January, before the Lunar New Year holiday and right before the China coronavirus (or Covid-19 if you don’t want to be politically incorrect) would explode across the country, I wrote about Hong Kong’s hollowing out as a great city as its civil liberties, economy and stability all deteriorate.

One major sign was that even the traditional pre-holiday fairs in HK fell afoul of politics as the government banned dried goods (and thus political material) from being sold, resulting in grassroot pro-movement markets springing up as an alternative. Basically a large part of Hong Kong living has become affected by the political tensions, resulting in cancelled events and celebrations, consumer boycotts, and ramped up repression such as arbitrary arrests of activists and politicians (yes, almost as if Hong Kong was becoming an authoritarian state).

Soon after, I wrote about Hong Kong again, emphasizing how its current fate is largely a result of its two-sided nature – a shining financial hub and a metropolis of 7 million. For Hong Kong’s political and business elite, the former is all they care about, while the latter is something that doesn’t register in their minds. That’s why livability and civil and political liberties are all fading significantly while poverty and inequality continue to soar. This potent blend of both economic and political discontent has fermented for many years to create a protest movement that erupted last June. While it has been lessened due to the coronavirus fears and increased government crackdowns, the movement is still active.

Most recently, I wrote about the coronavirus, which has consumed so much of our lives, whether in Asia, Europe or North America. Let me make it clear – the responsibility and blame for this lies on one person– Xi Jinping, China’s modern-day emperor wannabe. This whole culture of censorship, repressiveness and arbitrary abuses of power in China is a staple of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime, and it has only become so much worse since Xi came to power in 2013. As a result, an official coverup, censorship of information, and delays in taking action by Chinese authorities happened in the early stages of the coronavirus, leading it to spread. The misdeeds of the CCP include detaining doctors (one of whom died from the coronavirus) for talking about the outbreak online, refusing to inform the public during the first month or so, and not being transparent to the world about how serious the coronavirus was until it was too late to hide.

What makes this so important is that, as the coronavirus seemingly recedes in China, the CCP regime is trying to paint themselves as saviors and Xi as a great leader. Audaciously taking (premature and undeserved) credit for a problem they caused, they are now demanding both the world and their own Chinese citizens thank them as well. I don’t know, but when I think about all the lives lost, the people infected, the economic and psychological disruptions, and the inability to travel without fear, not to mention the cancelled or postponed football matches, thanks is the last thing anyone of us should have in mind for China.

Anyways, as long as Xi and the CCP continue their harmful and oppressive behavior, I will continue to speak out through my writing.

China coronavirus continues to spread

In the weeks since I last posted about the China coronavirus (COVID19), the outbreak has gotten much worse as cases and deaths have increased exponentially to over 71,000 and 1,770 respectively. Also, cases have popped up across the world from Asia to Europe to North America and even Egypt. However, I still think that the world can contain this coronavirus and that it won’t become a pandemic and infect 60 percent of mankind, as a Hong Kong scientist has claimed.

That said, the outbreak is increasing across Asia, especially in Hong Kong (almost 60 cases, 1 death), Singapore (over 70), and in Japan (over 60 cases), where a cruise ship with thousands on board in quarantine is seeing dozens of new cases every day and has a whopping 369 cases! Asian countries certainly need to take serious precautions, such as banning visitors from China and suspending flights to and from China (regardless of what the WHO claims). Also, I would also recommend people putting off any travel plans in East or Southeast Asia, not to mention to China itself.

I think that the biggest danger of the China coronavirus is not how fatal or contagious it is, but the significant lack of transparency in China over the real situation. It’s widely known now that the Chinese authorities knew about it since at least late December, and that they punished several “whistleblowers” who talked about this outbreak on social media in early January. However, these “rumor-mongerers” were medical doctors and they turned out to be right. One of these doctors even died from the coronavirus after contracting it while treating a patient. But while China has acknowledged these doctors were right and that the doctor who died is a hero, they have gone back to arresting or “disappearing” people¬†for making videos and writing articles about the authorities’ handling of the outbreak.

As long as the Chinese CCP government continues to engage in mass censorship, arbitrary abuses and draconian behavior towards its citizens, the world cannot be sure of what is going on and how serious the sickness is. I mean, we know it is serious but China has both tried to claim things are improving a lot whilst also expanding lockdowns of Wuhan and surrounding cities, as well as cities far away like the capital Beijing. This also shows how hypocritical it is of China to criticize the US and other countries for suspending flights from China while shutting down entire cities inside their own country.

Hong Kong is in a tough situation with both a widening coronavirus outbreak and social unrest and an inept and uncaring government. Even worse, there is widespread panic over facemask and toilet paper shortages. So much so, that in a new low, armed robbers stole hundreds of rolls of toilet paper from a supermarket this (Monday, February 17) morning. I found it so funny and ridiculous, but it’s also kind of sad because it reflects a sort of desperate greediness. I don’t think the robbers actually stole the toilet paper for themselves but perhaps planned to re-sell it for profit. Honestly, I feel the panic in Hong Kong has gotten out of hand and people need to take a calmer approach. While other places like Singapore also experienced a brief toilet paper and grocery panic, Hong Kongers have been overdoing it.

As it is though, the desperate state of affairs in Hong Kong has resulted in me leaving. While this was done for several reasons and not fully by choice, let’s just say I am not unhappy to be away from there right now.

China coronavirus spreading around Asia and the world

One week on from my last post, the coronavirus outbreak is not even worse, but it’s spread all over Asia and the world. In Hong Kong, there are 11 confirmed cases as of now and it’s reached the point where people are lining up in the early morning outside stores for masks and buying up food, vegetables and hygienic products.

This is a very serious crisis and there are fears of a global pandemic, but honestly, I think most of the world can handle this virus, which seems to be very contagious but not that fatal based on current statistics (170 dead, 7800 cases as of Thursday night HK time, January 30). So if you’re in a country like the US, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the EU, etc, don’t panic and just follow precautions and be up to date on the news.

But for China, with its inept leader Xi Jinping, its oppressive CCP regime, its censored media, lack of civil society and subpar health system, it’s a much different and tragic story. The authorities have gone from locking down the city of Wuhan (population 11 million) to virtually the entire province of Hubei (population about 60 million), but cases have broken out across all of China. Meanwhile, there are numerous videos and posts on social media of desperate scenes at crowded hospitals, Chinese people being barred inside their homes, Hubei people having their cars stoned or even accosted, and communities blocking roads to prevent outsiders from entering or passing through.

Despite the seriousness of this crisis, let’s not forget that in the early stages China kept the number of cases stagnant for at least a week, claimed cases were confined to Wuhan, and even arrested 8 people for spreading “rumors”. Worse is that these 8 “rumormongers” were medical doctors and were proven right. Sure, the top leaders now seem very concerned, with the premier heading up a group to tackle the crisis, but it’s because things seem to be getting out of control.

And despite attempts to shift blame onto local officials like the Wuhan mayor and local police, Xi and his government need to bear most of the blame and responsibility. Regardless of who tried to censor information or arrest doctors for warning people online, the fact is this whole system of censorship comes from the national authorities and the CCP. Of course, they won’t acknowledge this because to do so, to admit fault personally, would rupture their authority, especially Xi who has spent several years building himself up into some sort of emperor or god.

Whatever the situation in China, it’s almost a certainty that the reality is much worse than what’s being reported.

Here’s a good site from John Hopkins University to keep track of the outbreak and the number of cases.

Here are 10 steps to take to stay safe from the coronavirus including washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask if you’re sick or near sick people, and not touching your face or eyes when you’re outside.
If you are traveling overseas, here are more precautions for keeping safe. Needless to say, I don’t advise traveling to China anytime soon.

Wherever you are, let’s stay safe and avoid becoming sick from this coronavirus.

Unhappy Lunar New Year

It’s only three weeks into 2020 and I think it’s fair to say things aren’t looking up much compared to 2019. It’s almost like if fate is saying, “if you thought 2019 was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet”. I mean when 2020 started, there was a brief scare over World War III because of the US assassination of the Iranian general. Of course, it kind of fizzled out when Iran threatened revenge, then shot down a civilian airliner by mistake. Still, Australia’s wildfires raged on and it almost seemed unstoppable, killing dozens of people and many millions of creatures.

But for those of us in Asia, specifically in or near China, then there is a terrible development going on, which is an outbreak of a SARS-like coronavirus in the major city of Wuhan. Having only become known a month ago, the disease has expanded all over China as well as to Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and even the US. I’m really livid about this whole issue because there was certainly some kind of cover-up during the early stages when China clamped down on information or pretended that everything was smooth.

We’ve reached the stage where Hong Kong now has two confirmed cases and lots of people are wearing masks, but this is nothing compared to China where people everywhere are in a sort of panic, and Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is now under lockdown. As of today (Thursday, January 23), all forms of transport out of that city as well as their subway have been shut down and people are basically being forced to remain. In a way, that’s understandable but it’s an indictment of the shoddy and haphazard way the local and national authorities have handled this whole issue.

Despite this post’s headline, I do wish everyone a happy Lunar New Year but most of all, stay safe and sound.