Taiwan can certainly learn from India’s experiences in the production and distribution of vaccines.
The Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted a crushing blow to the loss of human life worldwide since early last year. Both India and Taiwan are fighting hard to contain the spread of the virus and save more lives. The second wave of the pandemic has hit India severely, while Taiwan is still fighting hard to control community infections that have already caused more than 8,000 cases in the past three weeks.
Perhaps it is too early to talk about Taiwan-India cooperation in the post-Covid era. Still, given the experiences of fighting Covid and cooperation in past months (Taiwan donated oxygen concentrators and medical equipment to India during the outbreak, and India also provided vaccines to Taiwan’s diplomatic allies), we can start considering the best ways of enhancing cooperation between the two sides in future.
Taiwan had remarkably contained the pandemic for one year, thanks to its highly efficient public health system. Taiwan is also a manufacturer of medical equipment, starting with PPEs, while India is ahead of Taiwan in developing and distributing vaccines. Some experience-sharing and even cooperation will be necessary. In 2020, Taiwan donated 17 million medical facial masks and substantial numbers of PPEs worldwide under the “Taiwan can help and Taiwan is helping” program. Many countries including India received facial masks from Taiwan. In early May 2021, India received 150 oxygen concentrators and 500 oxygen cylinders from Taiwan. A few days later, another 15 cryogenic ISO tanks from Hsing Mien Industry Co. also arrived in India to alleviate the Covid-19 surge. On the other hand, India has an unrivalled capability to manufacture vaccines: the Serum Institute of India in Pune, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has mass-produced vaccines at a daily rate of 2.5 million doses. Taiwan’s vaccine programs have been much slower: the Medigen biopharmaceutical company just announced the phase II trial data for its Covid vaccine, and it will take more time to acquire the capacity for mass-production. Taiwan can certainly learn from India’s experiences in the production and distribution of vaccines.
Presently, there are about 3,000 Indian degree-seeking students and scholars in Taiwan, and another 4,000 Indians have completed their studies or researches and returned to India. But only a few of them major in public health-related fields, and none of the Indian students ever enrolled in any medical college. In contrast, according to Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) data, more than 23,000 Indian students pursued medicine in China (many of them were actually in Wuhan) prior to the Covid pandemic. Thus, recruiting Indian students to Taiwan to major in medicine and public health-related fields is still an untapped area. Taiwanese universities shall plan to attract more Indian students to study in the areas mentioned above or start by promoting research collaboration or student/scholar exchanges.
Speaking of significant science and technology cooperation achievements deserving our attention, the National Chung Cheng University of Taiwan successfully cooperated with Sri Ramaswamy Memorial (SRM) University to develop the Smart Pandemic Prevention System monitoring the spread of the Covid-19 virus through data collected from face recognition and body temperature closed institutions such as schools or hospitals. The other panorama is Taiwan’s traditional herbal medicine developed by the National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine (NRICM) in 2020. Named NRICM101, this dietary supplement effectively reduces the chances of severe illness, and has attracted attention in many countries, including the USA and European Union. In fact, NRICM has already built a partnership with the Ayush Ministry of India to boost cooperation in traditional medicines. The latter also contributed Rs 1.5 million for bilateral collaboration projects.
We can estimate investment and even bilateral trade will be affected by the pandemic, but Taiwan, being the foremost manufacturer of medical equipment, could be the linchpin for India to strengthen ties. Nan Liou Enterprise, one of largest manufacturers of medical fabric and hygiene products in Asia, already built up a factory in Gujarat for producing non-woven fabric, the key material for producing facial masks and PPEs. Karma, a Taiwan-based company producing wheelchairs and other medical equipment, has produced its products in India for several years and enjoyed the largest market share in the Indian market. While Indian media has called out China for sending poor-quality medical equipment to India during the pandemic, Taiwan-made products enjoy an upper hand. Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) in India, a trade and investment promotion office sponsored by Taiwan, has set up an online pavilion introducing all Taiwanese companies manufacturing or supplying products fighting Covid-19. Introducing them to the Indian market or further attracting them to invest in India will be an indispensable task for both sides.
For countries to coordinate in the post-Covid era, health would be the leading sector because the pandemic exposed the lack of coordination in health governance. Bilateral cooperation will be based on making explicit the shared purpose and information and even technologies in health-related sectors. Taiwan and India are no exception. People from both countries have suffered from the pandemic, but such experiences also provide the basis for both sides to reconsider how the shortage of coordination mechanisms is addressed to guarantee an ideal collective and quick response in times of crisis.
Sadia Rahman is a PhD candidate from Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan; Mumin Chen is a Professor from the Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University, but currently works at Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in India.