This Week in Taiwan 0711-0717

July 13: The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced without warning that the third round of vaccination preference registration will open to individuals from ages 18 to 49, including migrant workers and foreign nationals holding residence permits. As of 10:30 PM, the number of registrations reached 12 million, which is quite impressive. However, because launching the online registration was rushed, the system was out of order for several hours, causing public discontent. 


July 14: In order to expand domestic vaccination coverage, the CECC announced that the "dose-to-population ratio" would replace the metric of first-dose vaccination coverage. Experts questioned that no country in the world would add two-dose vaccines to the total coverage rate and criticized that this is only an attempt to beautify the numbers in order to reach President Tsai Ing-wen's objective of reaching 25-percent vaccination coverage by the end of July. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung stated that the use of population ratio is what President Tsai intended, but CECC is taking this measure not at the request of the president but to make the data more intelligible internationally.


July 14: The Japanese book "That Island of Blossoming Flowers" (unofficial translation) by 31-year-old Taiwanese author Li Kotomi was awarded the Akutagara Prize, a prestigious Japanese literary award. 

Li started to study Japanese by himself while in junior high school. After graduating from university in 2013 at the age of 22, she went to Japan to pursue further studies. Her two novels written in Japanese, her second language, successively won "rookie" awards in Japan. In 2019, her novel Count to Five and the Crescent Moon was shortlisted for the Akutagawa Prize. 

That Island of Blossoming Flowers is an aerial island between Japan and Taiwan. The island's culture and language blend those of Taiwan and Japan. On the island, women are responsible for religious rituals and political affairs, and there is a language that only women can learn. This is a pure literary novel of a micro-science-fiction nature. 

The judges praised the work for shining a new light on Japanese language and literature. 


July 15: Sandra Oudkirk, the new director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), officially took office and expressed her hopes to bring U.S.-Taiwan relations to the next level. The United States dispatched a C-146A military administrative plane which landed at the Songshan base in Taipei to deliver "diplomatic mail," staying aground for a short 34 minutes before departing Taiwan. This is the first instance that the United States used a special military plane to transport items needed for the handover from the departing and incoming directors of the AIT. The AIT had no comment. 

Oudkirk is the first female director of the AIT since the mission's establishment. When she arrived in Taiwan on the evening of July 12, text of "Hello Taiwan" was printed on Oudkirk's face mask. She praised the beautify of Taiwan on the AIT's Facebook page and expressed her continued excitement about being stationed in such a vibrant democracy. 


July 16: The Taiwanese pharmaceutical company Medigen Vaccine Biologics claimed that the results of the second phase of vaccine trials would be announced at the end of October, but former Vice President Chen Chien-jen revealed on Facebook on the evening of July 15 that he received notice from National Taiwan University Hospital that he was given a placebo. The incident has triggered a public discussion on whether Chen enjoyed a privilege to early unblinding. 

Medigen responded that it asked experimental subjects beginning in July whether he would be willing to participate in extended trials. Otherwise, participants may unblind early. The Food and Drug Administration, Ministry of Health and Welfare, also confirmed that Medigen already applied for extended trials to supplement vaccines for subjects and was approved. 

Taipei City Councilor Wang Hung-wei of the Kuomintang (KMT) stated that the government has opened the registration for foreign vaccines to individuals aged 18 and older, but some 7,600 subjects who participated in phase two trials of the two Taiwanese vaccine manufacturers still do not know whether they were inoculated with a vaccine or a placebo and are unable to decide whether they need to be vaccinated. According to Wang, probably only Chen knows that he received a vaccine. Chen exposed that he was given a placebo, and Wang countered by asking why Chen was able to guarantee the safety of Medigen vaccines at the end of May? Why can he enjoy early unblinding?


July 16: The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill on ensuring the global leadership and participation of the United States. The bill contained content contending that United Nations recognition of Taiwan should not pertain to Taiwan, and that the Department of State should negotiate with Taiwan and allow the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office to be renamed the Taiwan Representative Office. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its gratitude. 

Some scholars worry that the move might cross Beijing's red line and urged President Tsai to consider the proposal carefully. 

Legislator Fei Hung-tai, who serves as the KMT's party whip, stated that the United States should not use Taiwan as a pawn in its rivalry with mainland China. If the United States were to recognize the Republic of China, then Taiwan's representative office in Washington should be renamed the Representative Office of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the United States. 


July 16: Deputy Minister of Economy Karol Galek of the Slovak Republic stated that Taiwan had donated masks to Slovakia during the most difficult time. For this reason, Slovakia will donate 10,000 coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines to Taiwan. President Tsai expressed her deepest thanks to Slovakia, and stressed that democracies support one another to create together an international positive cycle of good. According to reports, Slovakia is scheduled to send a delegation of double-digit members in September by an official government plane. The level and scale of the delegation is expected to open a new page in bilateral relations. 


July 16: Due to the pandemic, the Ministry of Labor announced the latest statistics on unpaid leave. The number of institutions reached 2,704, a record high, and the number of people was 30,980, an increase of 10,847 from the previous week, also a record high in 11 years. The most common means of implementation is nine to 12 days off per month, and the hospitality and dining industry has been hardest hit.


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