Barry Soper: Chris Hipkins' Taiwan comments the politics of ignorance

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Wed, 18 Nov 2020, 6:00AM
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Barry Soper: Chris Hipkins' Taiwan comments the politics of ignorance

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Wed, 18 Nov 2020, 6:00AM

Is it the politics of envy or is it simply the politics of ignorance?

Chris Hipkins was kept on in a newly created Ministry handling the Covid-19 response while the Health portfolio was split off for Andrew Little to take care of.

Hipkins was kept in the job essentially because anyone following the Covid cowboy David Clark would look good and sound convincing and he did, that is until he was talking about how Kiwis were obedient sheep compared with other countries.

The other country that's been infinitely better than us is Taiwan, a country of almost 25 million, which took no time to eliminate the virus with just over 600 cases and just seven deaths. It's insisted on mask wearing since February and closed its borders the following month.

Hipkins was talking about compliance and suggested the Republic of China, as Taiwan calls itself, did so well because it’s an authoritarian country.  Some of the countries we get compared with have much more authoritarian regimes, he said, citing Taiwan as having a much greater degree of compliance by taking a more authoritarian approach.

The Minister seems to have forgotten the rules imposed here during the first few weeks of lockdown under Level 4 that we had little choice but to follow even though it turned out they were illegal.

Freedom House, which has been rating countries around the world since the 1940s on the quality of their democracies, political rights and civil liberties rates Taiwan in the same ballpark as New Zealand and Australia and ahead of the United States.

Trying to get a diplomatic mea culpa out of the Beehive because of the Minister's mistake was like trying to get Donald Trump to admit defeat.

Our Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta's not doing interviews because she's admitted she's still learning about what to say about China, let alone its diplomatic foe Taiwan.    

Hipkins did finally admit the country itself isn't authoritarian, although he said some of the measures Taiwan took wouldn't be allowed under our privacy laws, like sharing information.

Defending his country against the sleight, the closest the country has got to a diplomat in this country because we don't recognise Taiwan for fear of offending cash cow China, Jeff Liu from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office kindly said Hipkins was clearly confused and suggested he pay a visit to the country, saying "to see is to believe”.

And he's right. Having seen it, Taiwan is as cosmopolitan and much more democratic than Hong Kong, and will hopefully remain that way providing their neighbour, the increasingly powerful China, remains at bay.