Former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) recently asked what the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) found so attractive about local biotechnology company Medigen Biologics, even going so far as to mock former vice president Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) for volunteering to participate in clinical trials for the firm’s COVID-19 vaccine and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for promoting the jab.
It is strange that, while the DPP is protecting and supporting the biotech industry, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) seems to be trying to hobble it.
In 2011, when the KMT conjured up controversy over Yu Chang Biologics — with then-KMT legislators Alex Tsai (蔡正元) and Chiu Yi (邱毅) verbally attacking Taiwanese-American researcher David Ho (何大一), who in 1996 appeared on the cover of Time magazine for his work on developing an AIDS drug cocktail that saved the lives of many — then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) accused Tsai, at the time the DPP’s presidential candidate, of profiteering.
Then-Council for Economic Planning and Development minister Christina Liu (劉憶如) even doctored documents to implicate Tsai.
The Special Investigations Division closed the case in 2012, saying that it found no evidence of wrongdoing, although a civil ruling asked Liu to pay Tsai NT$2 million (US$72,067 at the current exchange rate) in compensation.
Ho said that in mishandling the affair, the Ma administration essentially killed its own offspring, adding that if his country did not welcome him, he was prepared to look elsewhere to realize his biotechnology ambitions.
The KMT single-handedly chased a world-renowned scientist out of the country.
In March 2016, just prior to the transfer of power to the DPP, the KMT initiated the OBI Pharma case, accusing then-Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) of insider trading, bribery and corruption.
The case was dragged through the courts for years, before it was withdrawn by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office and the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office, citing insufficient evidence, which resulted in not-guilty verdicts by the Shilin District Court and the Taiwan High Court.
Nevertheless, Wong declined to be considered for the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, mindful of the damage the case had caused to his reputation.
The KMT hurt Taiwan again by burying the opportunity for the nation to have a Nobel Prize laureate.
After coming up against the KMT’s political machinations, Taiwan’s biotech sector has found itself cash-strapped and bereft of some outstanding scientists who are unwilling to return to these shores.
CommonWealth Magazine in October last year reported that South Korea’s biotech industry had largely contributed to the country’s GDP per capita increase, surpassing Taiwan as leader in the sector.
With the KMT doing its best to hold back Taiwan’s biotech sector, the nation’s biggest rival in the field, South Korea, has continued to develop, and last week Samsung announced it would invest an additional NT$5.76 trillion in the semiconductor and biotech industries.
Fresh out of jail, Samsung Group chairman Jay Y. Lee was given the blessing of the South Korean government to once more take the reins at the company.
Why is Taiwan so ready to see talent and scientists become embroiled in political games? What exactly does the KMT have against Taiwan’s biotech sector?
Liou Je-wei is a graduate student of political science at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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