According to a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week, a strong majority in both Hong Kong (61%) and Taiwan (73%) believe that the Chinese Government covered up or hid the seriousness of the threat from coronavirus when the virus first emerged. Only 21% in Hong Kong and 15% in Taiwan believe the Chinese Government were transparent. Scepticism by the public in Hong Kong and Taiwan echoes that in the UK and Europe, where we found in a poll conducted in May that a large majority believe China hid the severity of the situation. There is clear concern across the world that the Chinese Government attempted to downplay the seriousness of coronavirus when it broke out.
A majority (58%) in Hong Kong think the official number of reported coronavirus cases and deaths due to coronavirus in China is not trustworthy while just over a quarter (27%) think it is trustworthy. Opinion is more divided in Taiwan: a plurality (47%) doubt the figures, and 42% deem them trustworthy. Nevertheless, the public in both Hong Kong and Taiwan appear suspicious of the official figures.
In Taiwan, the public are sceptical of both China’s response to the coronavirus crisis and the explanation for the origin of coronavirus. A plurality (46%) think the more plausible explanation for the origin of the coronavirus pandemic is that it originated in a special lab in Wuhan where a researcher accidentally got infected. Only a quarter (26%) believe the official story that the virus originated from a wet market. It is important to note that the answer specifies that the pandemic was an accidental rather than intentional leak, but the lack of belief in the official explanation demonstrates the extent of public distrust in the Chinese Government’s position on coronavirus.
Taiwan’s practical handling of the coronavirus crisis has been championed, and the swift implementation of a lockdown has kept case and death numbers low. When health officials emailed the World Health Organisation with very early concerns about the virus, the WHO stated that there was no evidence of human transmission. Some have speculated that the WHO was initially assisting China with covering up the severity of the virus. That mainland China placed immense pressure on the WHO to rescind Taiwan’s observer status in 2016, and that the WHO refuted Taiwan’s legitimate concerns about the virus reasonably explains why nearly half (45%) of the Taiwanese public are unlikely to trust the WHO’s investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. To the Taiwanese public, the WHO have kowtowed to the pressure from Chinese Government before and they may do again.
Regardless of the origins of coronavirus, 85% of the Taiwanese public think the Chinese Government is to blame for the pandemic. Only 8% do not think they are to blame, or are only ‘somewhat’ to blame.
Overall, the coronavirus pandemic has placed further pressure on the relationships between Mainland China and both Hong Kong and Taiwan. The majority in the latter two places think the Chinese Government covered up the severity of the virus when it first emerged, and a plurality distrust the official figures of cases and deaths. In Taiwan, a large majority believe the Chinese Government is to blame and they do not believe the official explanation of the origins of the pandemic. Evidently, the pandemic has placed immense strain on two already fractious relationships.