Taiwan has not yet reached a point where it can export masks to diplomatic allies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday, dismissing as misinformation online reports that it gave away masks to curry favor with a diplomatic ally.
“Taiwan provides med-ical aid to diplomatic allies based upon specific circumstances,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said, adding that the supplements donated by Taiwan were all purchased locally in allied countries, in accordance with their needs.
“The time is not yet ripe” for Taiwan to export medical supplies, such as surgical masks, to diplomatic allies, until it is able to satisfy domestic demand, Wu said.
He was answering questions from reporters about reports that the ministry contravened the export ban by donating 100,000 masks to Paraguay, despite a domestic shortage.
The ministry on Saturday issued a statement rebutting the accusation, saying it had informed the authorities about the circulating misinformation.
Wu yesterday told a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee that the masks Taiwan provided to Paraguay were purchased in other Latin American countries at US$0.4 each and were not made in Taiwan.
However, restricted by the limited output of manufacturers in that region, Taiwan was able to give only 100,000 — instead of 1 million — masks to help the pandemic-hit ally, he said.
Wu added that Taiwan is facing a serious diplomatic challenge from China, which had contacted Paraguay and offered to donate masks.
Because of China’s suppression and poaching of allies, Taiwan has only 15 diplomatic allies, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Taiwan imposed a provisional ban on mask exports in late January after it reported the first confirmed case of novel coronavirus infection.
The ban, which was to last until Feb. 23, has been extended to April 30. The government has also requisitioned masks nationwide.
Lawmakers also asked Wu about Taiwan’s mask agreement with the US in their joint efforts to combat COVID-19.
Under the joint statement signed on March 18 by Wu and American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen, the US promised to reserve raw materials for 300,000 medical protective suits for Taiwan, while Taiwan agreed to provide 100,000 masks per week to the US when its production capacity has stabilized.
Wu confirmed that it is a formal “government-to-government” statement, although there are no formal diplomatic ties between the two nations.
As for when Taiwan would begin to supply the US with 100,000 masks per week, Wu said the two sides are still discussing the details.
Besides, the US has not yet decided when it would begin shipments of raw materials for 300,000 medical protective suits for Taiwan, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hsu Szu-chien (徐斯儉) said.
Taiwan needs 1 million medical protective suits and there are only two companies in the world — one in Japan and the other in the US — that produce key materials for the product, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua (王美花) said.
Although a Taiwanese company produces medical-grade cloth for protective suits, its output can only satisfy 10 percent of domestic demand, Wang said.
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