Authors: Huynh Tam Sang and Phan Van Tim, National University of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City
Taiwan’s success in containing COVID-19 gives it the opportunity to step up its awareness in Vietnam, which is still suffering from the pandemic.
Taiwan has proven its competence to contain the second outbreak of COVID-19, which was caused by the Delta strain of the virus. Daily cases in Taiwan were quickly brought under control, dropping from over 400 at the end of May to just seven at the end of September – and even reached zero for the first time in 193 days on October 19. COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed with conditional reopenings.
While Taiwan appears to have brought the pandemic under control, Vietnam has been working to contain a severe delta epidemic since the end of April. The number of cases in Vietnam has increased dramatically, from a few thousand in April to more than 896,000 cases and 21,800 deaths as of October 27. At the same time, Taiwan’s first-dose vaccination rate exceeded 69% of the population, while only 55.7% of Vietnam had received at least one dose.
Given the pain of COVID-19 in Vietnam, Taiwan has the opportunity to advance President Tsai Ing-wen’s ambitions of making Taipei’s pandemic control successes the basis of an assistance program international renewed.
Taiwan could offer medical and health assistance to Vietnam based on the One Country, One Center framework, one of the five pillars of the new southbound policy launched in June 2018. Pharmaceutical support and treatment experience of COVID-19 patients are things Taiwan could be assisting with. Taiwan could also offer Vietnamese healthcare professionals virtual training workshops and telecare used to manage challenges related to COVID-19.
In August, Taiwan donated 300 oxygen concentrators to Vietnam. Taiwan may need to step up efforts to help Vietnam with COVID-19-related training programs, health consultation services, and smart medical facilities, given Vietnam’s current shortage of medical assistance and equipment. .
Faced with a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, the Tsai administration has made locally developed vaccines a priority. On July 19, the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine from Taipei-based Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp (MVC). More than 1.3 million people in Taiwan have signed up to be vaccinated with the national vaccine.
Taiwan’s local vaccine opens a window of opportunity to use “vaccine diplomacy” to leverage its status. Exporting vaccines from Taipei to Vietnam appears to be a matter of safety and recognition: the MVC vaccine has entered phase two clinical trials in Taiwan and Vietnam, with data “looking pretty good”. Taiwanese health officials said the antibodies created by the shot were “no worse than the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine injections the public received.”
Last year, MVC and the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology – a division of the Vietnamese Ministry of Health – signed a cooperation agreement in which Vietnam and Taiwan agreed to jointly conduct phase clinical trials. two of the MVC COVID-19 vaccine. This continued cooperation is a lever for Vietnam’s approval of the MVC vaccine manufactured in Taiwan.
The crucial task of the Taiwanese government is to build international confidence in the MVC vaccine and to combat disinformation campaigns. Then the Tsai administration should consider donating doses of MVC to Vietnam when Hanoi approves its use.
But Taiwan’s vaccine aid to Vietnam will only be likely if Taiwan vaccinates its own population first. China could also derail Taiwan’s vaccine diplomacy efforts. For the Chinese authorities, reaching out to Taiwan for medical assistance can be interpreted as a violation of the “one China policy”, to which Hanoi is committed.
Vietnamese leaders might find it unwise to upset China, given their ties of comradeship. But as the COVID-19 situation worsens, Vietnamese leaders may seek to prioritize the security of the Vietnamese people and consolidate their political legitimacy while branding Taiwan’s support as a form of non-traditional cooperation. China’s intimidation in the South China Sea has strained Sino-Vietnamese relations, easing Vietnam’s fears of offending China through cooperation with Taiwan on the pandemic.
In September, alongside Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Vietnam, Hanoi hosted Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to sign a defense transfer agreement and discuss ways to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation. in a growing maritime context of Beijing.
Taiwan could support Vietnam against COVID-19 by sharing the “Taiwan model”. This would include the provision of health and medical equipment and techniques, the offer of assistance in areas ranging from social support to quarantine and lockdown, methods to improve the ability to work remotely, protection of the safety and well-being of workers, and make Taiwan’s vaccine diplomacy work in Vietnam.
The Tsai administration’s art of governing, coupled with Vietnam’s resolve and flexibility, could help Hanoi reduce the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and further elevate Vietnam-Taiwan relations. But the two sides should conduct their cooperation calmly and quietly rather than trumpeting it in China.
Huynh Tam Sang is a lecturer at the Faculty of International Relations, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, National University of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City and a researcher at the Taiwan NextGen Foundation.
Phan Van Tim is a research assistant at the Center for International Studies, University of Social and Human Sciences, National University of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.