The democratic island of Taiwan has called on China to prioritize the most vulnerable of its nationals when arranging their evacuation from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which is at the center of the coronavirus epidemic.
President Tsai Ing-wen said Chinese officials had excluded some of its most vulnerable nationals from the first evacuation flight to leave Wuhan since the outbreak left the city paralyzed last month.
She also hit out at China's insistence that the World Health Organization (WHO) refer to Taiwan, which has never been part of the People's Republic of China, nor been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, as "Taipei and environs."
"We in Taiwan are on the front line of epidemic prevention and deserve the respect of the international community," Tsai said. "In particular, our participation in the WHO is the key to a very important network for international epidemic prevention work."
"Taiwan's participation is necessary and crucial," she said, adding that the Chinese authorities are giving erroneous information about infections in Taiwan to the WHO.
"We have seen a surge in cases," Tsai said. "That is absolutely clear, which is why we need to participate in the WHO."
"The information obtained by the WHO was obviously inaccurate ... and could cause the WHO to make mistakes in dealing with the global epidemic."
Beijing ignores arrangements
In a further source of tension between Taipei and Beijing, one passenger on a charter flight that arrived on Monday from Wuhan later tested positive for the coronavirus, and became the 11th confirmed case in Taiwan.
Taiwan health officials have called on Chinese officials to allow them to decide who gets priority on future evacuation flights.
"Arrangements for the first evacuation were totally taken over by Chinese officials and didn't meet the priorities previously agreed by the two sides," Tsai said on Friday. "The most vulnerable, especially those who need special treatment, weren't on the first flight, and they are stuck there still."
"This has also caused some problems for our quarantine procedures, so we still need to ensure that we give priority to the most vulnerable on the next charter flight, and quarantine them first," she said.
Ma Xiaoguang, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, has accused Tsai's administration of playing politics and preventing a second China Eastern Airlines flight from delivering the next group of evacuees in a timely manner. He said 979 Taiwanese have applied to the Chinese authorities to be repatriated.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said the careful management of quarantine procedures after repatriation flights is of the highest importance.
The democratic island has a handful of confirmed coronavirus cases so far, all of which have been contained and isolated. There have been no infections reported in the local community.
MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said such evacuations can't be conducted in haste.
"Such an urgent and hasty approach will lead to an increased risk of the epidemic spreading," Chiu said.
Prioritize the vulnerable
He said Taiwan had agreed with the Chinese authorities to prioritize the evacuation of the elderly, children, people on long-term and specialist medication, and those with special care needs, such as people with injuries and hemophiliacs.
A passenger surnamed Lin who was aboard the first evacuation flight back to Taiwan said Chinese officials had initially contacted Taiwanese businessmen who lived closer to the airport, rather than following the agreed protocols.
"They didn't do any blood tests before we got on the plane, just a body temperature check," Lin said. "They let anyone on the plane whose temperature wasn't raised, and there was no protective clothing or isolated seats."
"We didn't find out until we got to Taiwan that there was a confirmed coronavirus patient on the plane," she said. "I'm really angry: how could they have behaved like that?"
Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said that two newly confirmed cases of coronavirus in Taiwan had both traveled there from Wuhan. One was in a stable condition, while the other was close to recovered.
It also announced that all regular passenger flights across the Taiwan Strait will be grounded from Monday through April 29, with the exception of Shanghai, Xiamen and Chengdu, in a bid to slow the influx of travelers carrying the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.
"The command center is continuing to keep the epidemic out of the country," it said in a statement on Thursday. "We haven't reached the stage of transmission within the community."
CECC commander Chen Shih-chung told a news conference on Friday that, in addition to a ban on all arrivals from mainland China, anyone transiting or visiting Hong Kong and Macau in recent weeks will be required to remain in quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Taiwan.
Tsai has repeatedly insisted that Taiwan will only deal with China on an equal footing, and will continue to insist on its freedom, democracy and sovereignty in the face of the growing threat of invasion and infiltration from Beijing.
In her 2020 New Year's Address on Jan. 1, Tsai called on China to recognize the existence of the Republic of China, founded by the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and relocated to Taiwan after Chiang Kai-shek lost the civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.
She said China has used diplomatic offensives, military threats, interference and infiltration to try to force the island to compromise its sovereignty.
But Tsai said Taiwan would never agree to becoming part of the People's Republic of China in its current, authoritarian state.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, and was occupied by KMT troops in 1945. The rest of the KMT regime under Chiang Kai shek relocated to the island after losing the civil war with Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.