On Saturday (11 April), Temasek CEO Ho Ching, who is also the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, made a post on Facebook in which she wrote, “Errrr…” in regards to a news article that states Taiwan is donating face-masks to Singapore.
Taiwanese netizens have asked Mdm Ho to explain the meaning of her post and said that if Singapore is not interested in the donated masks, it can reject the offer.
Following Mdm Ho’s ambigous post, and the continued flaming of the Taiwanese netizens, Singapore Matters — a Pro-People’s Action Party (PAP) fanpage — posted on Facebook on the same day, stating that small countries like Singapore are vulnerable in a global crisis as all countries act to protect its own interest.
The post, which has since been removed and re-posted, heavily referenced the comments made by Mdm Ho about ST Engineering and the Taiwan government’s banning of masks but it also went on to insinuate that Taiwan was keeping the stock of masks from Singapore.
The Singapore Matters post noted that “Singapore would have way more than enough masks if not for Taiwan’s export ban”, explaining that a Singaporean company called ST Engineering that produces Air+ N95 and XS masks for the Singapore population is actually based in Taiwan.
The post explained, “Upon the first news of coronavirus outbreak in China last year, ST Engineering was already briefed and instructed by the Singapore government to ram up its mask manufacturing”.
It added, “Benevolent as always, Singapore had probably wished to help the other countries as well”.
The post went on to say that the stock was scheduled to leave Taiwan for Singapore after Chinese New Year, however the Taiwanese government decided to ban exports of all masks. This meant that ST Engineering was no able to deliver its masks to Singapore.
Singapore Matters continued to say that “the Singapore government swung into action”, adding that many Singaporeans didn’t know as plans were made behind the scenes to prepare factory space for local mask production as two ST engineering production lines were moved back to Singapore. Similar to what Mdm Ho said in her own comment.
The pro-PAP fanpage then when on to quote directly from an earlier post by Mdm Ho’s: “Innosparks, an ST Engineering innovation subsidiary has set up their Air+ N95 mask production in Singapore, over the last few months, working day and night. They are not starting to produce their Air+ N95 with priority for our healthcare workers in the frontline. A big thank you to the Innosparks team and every one who has helped along the way to make this a real option.”
Singapore Matters then added that ST Engineering is working with its Taiwanese partners to add more production lines to build up local medical capabilities so that Singapore can be self-sufficient.
The post concluded by asking and then answering the question of what lesson could be drawn from this experience. It said, “It is that small countries like Singapore is very vulnerable in a global crisis as all countries will act to protect their own interests. It is therefore vital that we build capabilities in key areas that are existential.”
Many Singapore netizens used Singapore Matters’ post to argue against the Taiwanese netizens who were unhappy about Mdm Ho’s Facebook post, causing the matter to escalate even further beyond what Mdm Ho has written or implied.
This saga has been widely covered by Taiwanese news and the Taiwan government has made a response stating that their bilateral policy will not be affected by statements by individuals.
Taiwan legislator points out that STE’s last shipment was bound for Korea, not Singapore
The thing is, a notice on the Taiwan Ministry of Economy Affairs dated 23 January noted that due to the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), it is adding the “masks made of textile materials with a filtration effect of 94% or more” and “other textile materials masks” on the restricted output goods list.
It specifically notes that if the exporter has already sold its stocks to a foreign client before 24 January and the company can provide the appropriate documentation to prove that payment has been made, those goods can be shipped out.
Essentially, if the ST Engineering had already sold its stocks to Singapore prior to 24 January, the masks would have made it back to the country with no issues from the Taiwan government.
Today (13 April), a Taiwanese legislator, Lin Chuyin, shared on her Facebook post that the N95 masks which ST Engineering produced and listed with Taiwanese Customs on 22 January were already shipped out on 29 January. The chart on her post, also noted that the shipment of 54 thousand masks was bound for Korea, not Singapore.
According to further information that she dug out from the country’s Trade Ministry, the two ST Engineering production lines also left Taiwan via the airport on 12 February, meaning that the company was no longer manufacturing masks in Taiwan after that date.
So how can Taiwan be withholding N95 masks from Singapore, as insinuated by Singapore Matters?