How Taiwan’s Success with COVID-19 Negatively Impacts US-China Relations

A guest post today from UNC junior Morgan Hanchard, a 2019 Phillips Ambassador to Shanghai, China, and a double-major in HIstory and Peace, War & Defense:

As COVID-19 swept across the globe, its effects presented differently in differing regions.  Some countries saw lethal numbers of cases, in which population densities significantly decreased.  In some countries, the virus was tackled effectively, minimizing damage to populations.  Taiwan’s number of confirmed cases has yet to reach the 500 mark, largely due to their universal healthcare system.  To praise Taiwan for its success in handling the pandemic, the United States sent a U.S. Cabinet member to Taiwan, simultaneously hoping to learn from their “incredibly effective” response to COVID-19.  On August 10, United States Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, spent three days in Taiwan with President Tsai Ing-Wen, demonstrating Washington’s support for positive U.S.-Taiwan relations.

However, this success comes at a cost.  With tensions between the United States and China at a breaking point as President Trump continuously demonizes China, even calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” Azar’s trip to Taiwan cannot ignore its geopolitical intentions.  This interaction was a foreign policy rarity.  Azar is the highest U.S official to visit Taiwan since 1979, when the Taiwan Relations Act was signed into effect under the Carter Administration.  This legislation ended all diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan, under the terms that the United States solely recognize the People’ Republic of China, breaking ties with Taiwan completely.  By sending a delegation into Taiwan, which is not lawfully recognized by the United States, the Trump Administration is likely to spark controversy within Beijing.

On August 11, Azar spoke at National Taiwan University, where he stated that “in these trying times, the United States knows that we will always have a friend in Taiwan.”  In addition, Azar praised Taiwan’s democratic values, implying that Taiwan’s success can be contributed to its democratic society.  This statement set off anger in Beijing and amongst the Chinese Communist Party, as the U.S. gets dangerously closer to brinkmanship with China.  Azar claims that his trip was solely based on public health issues and Washington’s effort to gain insight on their treatment methods.  Even with COVID-19 in mind, the political consequences within U.S.-China relations cannot be ignored.  By ameliorating their relationship with Taiwan, Washington runs the risk of pushing tensions with Beijing to the brink. China may view Azar’s visit to Taiwan as a challenge to its sovereignty, polarizing the two sides even further.  The Trump administration is utilizing Taiwan as a strategic ploy to provoke China, which could seriously taint the bilateral relationship.

Find out more about this story at the Washington Post, CNN, or the Wall Street Journal.

Hong Kong Tiananmen Vigil banned on “health grounds”

About 2,000 riot officers will be deployed on Hong Kong Island while another 1,000 will be in other districts, such as Mong Kok.

Over 3,00 riot officers will be deployed today, Thursday, June 4, to enforce the ban against the annual candlelight vigil, commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre (a student-movement resulting in the deaths of hundreds). This will be the first time in 30 years that  people have not been allowed to gather.

The ban was enforced on “health grounds,” however, it was also said by police that those who split into smaller groups would still be breaking the law. This warning of heavy police came as organizers of the rally at Victoria Park said they planned to go regardless, in groups of eight or less, the limit due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Roughly 2,000 of the riot officers will be deployed on Hong Kong Island with two water cannons stationed at the government headquarters in Admiralty. The remaining 1,000 officers will be based in other districts with another water cannon in West Kowloon.

Organizer Lee Cheuk-yan said that he expected police to issue them fines for breaching the eight-person limit by factoring in the people around them, as they used as similar strategy for the May 1st Labor Day demonstration. He questioned, however, how the authorities could conclude that all those attending the vigil at Victoria Park would be gathering for the same purpose. “I could be commemorating the mother of a Tiananmen Square victim. Another person could be thinking about resistance,” he said.

Police have also banned the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood from holding a separate vigil on Thursday evening in Sham Shui, rejecting their appeal on Wednesday. Barrister Anson Wong Yu-yat said the police interpretation on group gatherings was debatable as “No one can say with certainty whether the court will regard to or more groups of eight protestors physically assembling in a place, while keeping one and a half meter distance between each group […] constituting a prohibited group gathering.”

Breaking the social distancing rules has a fine of HK$2,500 (US$258) for participants and GK$25,000 and six months jail-time for organizers. To avoid these fines, and other possible ramifications, the Alliance will also be holding online tributes for those world-wide to participate.

The way that Hong Kong (and more widely the People’s Republic of China, which is exercising increased authority over this territory) is dealing with protests and questions of health in a time of pandemic can function as an interesting comparison for cases of protests and mass gatherings in other parts of the world also still buffeted by COVID-19. The government’s use of public health guidance to manage non-health-related policy issues also raises questions.

Author: Camryn Thomas

Indonesian Islamic extremists see Covid-19 as a godsend?

Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, is well-known for being a sharp eye and a clear voice on extremist Muslim groups in Indonesia. Her institute put out a report last month on “Covid-19 and the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (MIT),” and it’s a fascinating look at a very different set of security concerns in this time of global pandemic.

Surprisingly, the radical group in this report is not new (violent interreligious conflict has been seen in the province of Central Sulawesi off-and-on for over two decades, since the fall of the Suharto regime), but had a new inspiration from the current pandemic. From the report:

The arrival of Covid-19 in Indonesia instilled a new optimism in MIT. … They saw that not only was it infecting and killing kafirs (non-believers) but it was also weakening the economies of all the states engaged in the war against ISIS, including America, Britain,Australia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran  –  and Indonesia. This belief was enough to convince the tiny group of combatants that they could eventually defeat the Indonesian state.
Although much of this 8-page document really gets in the weeds of this tiny minority of extremists (there is a reason why Sidney Jones is a go-to expert on Southeast Asian Islamic terrorism for governments around the world), it also presents a fascinating picture of the alternative interpretation of this crisis from a very different point of view.
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