Taipei, March 23 (CNA) Taiwan has not yet reached the point that it can export surgical masks to diplomatic allies in need amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) declared Monday, dismissing online misinformation that it gave away masks to an ally as a diplomatic favor.
"Taiwan's medical aid to diplomatic allies is provided based upon specific circumstances," Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said, and the supplements donated by Taiwan are all purchased locally in the ally countries, in accordance with their needs.
Now "the time is not yet ripe" for Taiwan to export medical supplies like surgical masks to diplomatic allies, unless the country's own domestic demand is satisfied, Wu emphasized.
He was answering questions from reporters about misinformation that MOFA violated the export ban to "toady to" Paraguay with a donation of 100,000 masks, while Taiwan is still suffering a great shortage of masks amid the pandemic.
MOFA issued a statement Saturday in which it rebutted the accusation and said it had informed the relevant authorities of the misinformation circulation.
On Monday, Wu said at the legislative Foreign and National Defense Committee hearing that the masks Taiwan provided to Paraguay were all purchased in other Latin American countries at the price of US$0.4 each, instead of those made in Taiwan.
Restricted by limited output of the providers in that region, Taiwan has so far given away only 100,000 masks to Paraguay in its plan to aid the pandemic-hit ally with 1 million masks, he said.
Wu, however, also told lawmakers that Taiwan is facing a diplomatic challenge from China, who he said made contact with Paraguay before Taiwan's mask donations to make mask offers of its own.
Because of China's suppression and ally poaching, Taiwan currently maintains diplomatic links with just 15 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Taiwan imposed a provisional ban on mask exports in late January after it reported the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus infection.
The ban, which was set to be effective until Feb. 23, has been prolonged until April 30, as well as the government's requisition of surgical masks nationwide.
Meanwhile, at the Legislative Yuan on Monday, Wu was also asked by lawmakers about Taiwan's mask offers that were written in a joint statement between Taiwan and the United States for joint efforts to combat COVID-19.
Under the joint statement signed on March 18 by Wu and Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the U.S. promised to reserve raw materials for 300,000 medical protective suits for Taiwan, while Taiwan agreed to provide 100,000 medical face masks per week to the U.S. when its production capacity has stabilized.
Wu confirmed that it is a formal "government-to-government" statement, despite the fact that there are no diplomatic links between Taiwan and the U.S.
As for when Taiwan will begin to provide the U.S. with the promised 100,000 masks per week, Wu said the two sides are still discussing details of the matter.
In addition, the U.S. side has not yet settled on when it will begin shipments of its promised raw materials for 300,000 medical protective suits for Taiwan, Deputy Foreign Minister Hsu Szu-chien (徐斯儉) said.
According to Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua (王美花), Taiwan is in need of 1 million medical protective suits, and currently, only two companies in the world -- one in Japan and the other in the U.S. -- produce the key materials for such products.
Although a Taiwanese company has successfully produced medical-degree cloth for protective suits, its output can satisfy local demand by only 10 percent, Wang said.