One often forgotten area of responsibility for national governments is ensuring the safety of their citizens abroad. Every now and then, we are re-minded of this requirement when natural catastrophes or war send governments scrambling to evacuate their nationals by the boatload, as we saw during Israel's war against Lebanon last year or whenever a credible terrorist threat is made against Western embassies in the Middle East.
How governments respond to threats against the security of their expatriates is largely informed by the threat and risk assessments formulated by various agencies involved in the process.
Those assessments, however, will only be as good as the information on which they are based and in a fluid environment such as the one in which we live today, where goods, information and people transit at unprecedented speed, how agencies obtain the necessary information is largely predicated on effective networks of communication.
Last week news emerged of a 10-day delay in the sharing of information with Taiwan. Beijing delayed sharing information from the International Food Safety Authorities Network -- a branch of the WHO -- with Taipei about contaminated baby corn from Thailand last month. Such a delay raises serious doubts about the body's ability to relay information.
Whether the delay was the result of politics or sheer ineptitude on Beijing's part remains to be determined, but regardless of the reason, this gap represents a threat not only to the security of Taiwanese but of all the expatriates who live in Taiwan.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Taiwan loses its direct access to WHO information and must instead rely on Beijing to obtain it (as Beijing would have it), governments will need to find ways to ensure adequate protection for their own citizens.
No matter the reason for last month's mishap on the contaminated baby corn, foreign governments must do what is necessary to avoid a repeat.
Given China's abysmal track record, such as the SARS outbreak in 2003 or the handful of contaminated food scandals this year, we can expect further gaps from Beijing in the timely and responsible feeding of information to the health network.
Furthermore, as a result of the unresolved crisis in the Taiwan Strait, any new arrangement between the WHO and Beijing that elbows Taipei out of the information loop can only give Beijing an additional weapon with which to pressure Taiwan, one that threatens an entire population.
It could withhold crucial information -- or threaten to do so -- on health matters for political considerations and hold 23 million Taiwanese and tens of thousands of expatriates hostage in the process to achieve political objectives.
Irrespective of their position on the Taiwan Strait conflict, national governments cannot allow Beijing to threaten the safety of their own citizens, neither through incompetence nor for more nefarious reasons like political blackmail.
Failure to build the necessary pressure on Beijing and the WHO to ensure that a situation like the one that occurred last month does not recur would ultimately be a failure by those governments to meet their obligations to their citizens abroad.
It is one thing for Washington, London, Ottawa or Berlin to look the other way when Beijing tramples the rights of Taiwanese, a blind spot that can be explained by self-interest and political realism. But to do so when the very safety of their own citizens is compromised by Beijing is a question of an altogether different nature and one for which foreign nationals should hold their governments accountable.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has
As the US’ mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues at a record pace, one question under debate is what the administration of US President Joe Biden should do with its extra doses — and especially where to send them. One country that should be at the top of a donation list is Taiwan, in recognition of the help that it provided to the US at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. After weeks of pressure, the Biden administration announced that it is now “looking at options to share American-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses.” By summer, it is clear that anyone in the