Taiwan and the EU ‘safe list’

Written by Ian Inkster.

Image credit: B737-8SH/WL by Christian Junker/Flickr, license CC-NC-ND 2.0

It will now be well-known to our readers that the European Union has excluded Taiwan from ‘a safe list,’ which allows citizens unhindered travel to-and-fro the Eurozone. It is important to note that there is no obligation for the EU to give full, or even sensible reasons, for this decision. Still, we can nevertheless examine the evidence for ourselves. This is summarised in Table 1 below:

Table 1

Table 1
Sources can be found here

Of course, the whole enterprise of the list is shot through with contradictions. The worst incongruity is that Europeans are demanding far more from others than they could ever provide themselves. Within Europe itself, of course, the record is appalling—with Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK at above 200,000 Covid registered cases each. While outside the Eurozone, Russia has a vast 680,000 cases. Spain locks down again in Catalonia, as the European total of new cases today (4 July) reaches over 8,400, some 25 times the total new cases of all nations on the 15-nation safe-list of the EU, as can be seen from Table 1.

The three left-side columns show the Covid situation for each country. Nine nations can match Taiwan in having no new cases in the last 24-hours, but none can demonstrate no new transmitted cases over the last 80 days. Furthermore, none of the nations matches Taiwan’s record of only 19 cases per million people (Cm), and only Rwanda can challenge Taiwan on deaths per million (Dm). That is, Taiwan is far less dangerous as a country of departure than any accepted onto the list of safe nations. The notion that Taiwan might have received an especially negative political assessment rather than merely a negligent or disdainful one is shored up in the clear contrast with South Korea, safely installed on the list. To all intents and purposes, from a European perspective, Taiwan and South Korea are similar nations on most grounds, especially so as recent industrialisers within an Asian frame. Yet Korea, with its 63 new cases and its 254 cases per million, trumps Taiwan with its zero cases and its 19 cases per million.

Do Europeans think that Taiwan is untrustworthy or irresponsible in comparison to not only Korea but Georgia, Montenegro, or Serbia, or do they not? Given that Taiwanese flock into our European degree programs and spread their bubble tea everywhere that does seem unlikely? Are they somehow considered less acceptable on other socio-cultural grounds and thus poorly treated in the safe list?

The three columns on the right side cast considerable doubt on any such surmise. GCI is a large portmanteau measure that has been constructed annually by the World Economic Forum in Geneva for many years, and it is a policy and research tool of many groups and institutions through its mammoth yearly Global Competitiveness Report. Rankings are compiled from publicly available data as well as from a European-dominated Executive Opinion Survey by both the Forum and an extensive network of partner institutions. The simple numerical index (column GCI) attempts to capture education, political and cultural aspects of civil society, policing and security, stable governance and good health. This does not mean its unchallengeable, but it is serious, and it ranks Taiwan at 12 amongst all nations globally. Of all 15 nations on the list, only Japan is ranked higher (at 6). And as can be seen from the column, nations on the list include Tunisia down at 86, Algeria at 89, and Rwanda at 100. So, by measure of a major, highly-resourced European-based and European-dominated institution, Taiwan is a highly attractive nation from which to derive tourists, students and business communities.

And the point may be extended, as in the columns on health expenditures and on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations. Taiwan, with a principally private health system, spends well on health care and outperforms 10 of the listed nations in terms of HDI, this incorporating per capita incomes, education and social infrastructure. Norway, the world’s top HDI nation in 2019 scored 95.4. So, an exclusive listing that has found room for Rwanda with its HDI score of 53.6, defined by the UN as ‘low human development’ has excluded Taiwan.

Since we may conclude that Taiwan is the most successful nation in fighting the Covid 19, and its exclusion from the EU Covid safe-list cannot be directly explained with reference to the virus—or through any measurable socio-economic elements—then the exclusion is explicable only in terms that are immeasurable and ongoing. China looms large and has not itself yet been entirely accepted on the list. However, this appears to only depend upon arrangements for reciprocity, that is, an acceptable quid quo pro for European tourists and travellers within China. This seems to be a passport.

On the other hand, if pressure from China, or some less specific global cultural undercurrent of international political economy that wishes to avoid possible conflict with China, is the most active factor at work, then this is, in the end, surprising. China can fry fish in other spaces, and there are a host of more direct ways in which real pressure is, and has been, exerted upon Taiwan. Europe can have no real reason to exclude Taiwan from the list, and it could easily argue that any Chinese objection that did arise was immaterial and of no great moment. Certainly, Europe can readily argue that in our present Covid universe, any nation that has succeeded so well and with no support from the outside deserves both recognition and reward. There is no strong reason for Taiwan not to be entered into the safe list’.

Ian Inkster is a global historian and political economist who has taught and researched at universities in Britain, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. Author of 13 books on Asian and global dynamics with particular focus on industrial and technological development, and the editor of History of Technology since 2000. Forthcoming books are Distraction Capitalism: The World Since 1971, and Invasive Technology and Indigenous Frontiers. Case Studies of Accelerated Change in History with David Pretel.

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