In early April, the Netherlands recalled more than half of the 1.3 million N-95 masks sent to them by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), citing defects and the masks not meeting code. In mid-April, more than one million masks were rejected by Canada for not meeting proper standards and were never distributed to health care facilities and emergency workers that desperately needed them. The same personal protective equipment (PPE) failures happened in Finland and Australia. Health authorities in Spain, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Turkey, and Britain have had to destroy faulty antigen and/or antibody coronavirus tests purchased from PRC companies because of contamination or a lack of quality control. 

It’s happening here at home, too. A colleague in charge of purchasing PPE for health care facilities in Central Pennsylvania told me that he was excited to finally receive a shipment of masks, but they arrived labeled “made in China (PRC)” — and weren’t more than a coffee filter tied with a piece of yarn. 

Unfortunately, the United States is and has been too reliant on the PRC for medical equipment, PPE, and pharmaceuticals for decades. Entire supply chains and distribution networks were disrupted when the pandemic began and spread from Wuhan. When China closed its economy, PPE shipments to American health systems halted, and domestic manufacturing supply wasn’t able to meet demands. 

A colleague in charge of purchasing PPE for health care facilities in Central Pennsylvania told me that he was excited to finally receive a shipment of masks, but they arrived labeled “made in China (PRC)” — and weren’t more than a coffee filter tied with a piece of yarn. 

Enter the Republic of China (ROC), more commonly referred to by Americans as Taiwan. The island of 24 million people, which sits 100 miles off the southeast coast of mainland China, has pledged to aid the international community by donating tens of millions of medical masks around the globe, even as it has been sidelined by the mainland and its allies at the WHO and elsewhere. More than two million such masks have arrived on our shores, and just recently it was announced that 100,000 masks are being donated to hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, courtesy of our friends in Taiwan. 

In early June of 2019, I had the honor of traveling to Taiwan to represent Pennsylvania and the Taipei Economic and Cultural office in New York — the equivalent of the Taiwanese embassy, for a country that doesn’t have formal relations with the U.S. or nearly anywhere else — to participate in the “Mosaic Taiwan” fellowship exchange program. It was a two-week crash course on U.S.-Taiwan political and economic relations. In the time I spent on the island, I experienced the authenticity and generosity of the citizens there, first-hand. When I learned of the substantial donation from the Republic of China to Pennsylvania’s medical community, it didn’t come as a surprise. Taiwan is indeed a responsible global citizen, and in the time of this pandemic, they’ve proven this fact. 

Beyond donating much needed PPE, Taiwan has also entered into partnerships with medical leaders in the United States to develop COVID-19 diagnostic tests, potential treatments, and vaccines. The fears about quality control or contamination are not a concern when dealing with the ROC, as they would be with the PRC. 

Taiwan is indeed a responsible global citizen, and in the time of this pandemic, they’ve proven this fact. 

Taiwan has built a thriving democracy and economy in the face of threats to its sovereignty, much of it based on international trade. The ROC was Pennsylvania’s 18th largest trading partner last year, and trade has continued to increase steadily over the past few years. Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development has an office on the island and a dedicated staff committed to growing trade between our two states. Nationally, Taiwan is currently our country’s 11th largest goods trading partner with $76.0 billion in total goods trade (2018).

In times of crisis, it becomes clear very quickly who is a friend and who cannot be trusted. As the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have learned, it’s the ROC that can be trusted as an ally, partner, and friend. Right now, the United States and Pennsylvania are in need of PPE and Taiwan has answered the call. It’s my hope that when the time comes for the United States and Pennsylvania to answer the call from the ROC, we will do so without hesitation. 

In the meantime, this crisis serves as a wakeup call for the United States to reduce dependence on foreign nations for critical public health and safety supplies. Our manufacturers, supply chains, and distribution networks ought to be able to produce medical equipment, PPE, and pharmaceuticals for our needs domestically and to assist our allies. During this pandemic, creators have responded, manufacturers have retooled, and PPE is being produced rapidly here at home. 

In the meantime, this crisis serves as a wakeup call for the United States to reduce dependence on foreign nations for critical public health and safety supplies.

But life will go back to a new-normal, hopefully sooner than later, and product lines will revert back to original business plans — but with a new mandate to expand American-made medical equipment, PPE, and pharmaceutical products. There’s much we can learn from our friends in Taiwan as they ramped up their manufacturing to produce more than 13 million medical masks a day. Their expertise in medical research and documented success in disease prevention makes further partnership advantageous for both our nations. 

Without question, the United States will continue to work with our friends across the Pacific throughout this crisis and into the future. Even without representation in an official capacity with organizations such as the World Health Organization, Taiwan has proven to be a gracious and giving actor. Taiwan is an ally worthy of our support and in this time of crisis; an ally worthy of our thanks. Pennsylvania clearly has a friend in Taiwan.

Carl A. Marrara is the Vice President of Government Affairs at the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

Your email address will not be published.