Taiwan’s main opposition party has come under fire from Twitter users after lashing out on its official account at an activist who had voiced support for the government’s efforts to procure Covid-19 vaccines.

Roy Ngerng, a Singaporean dissident and activist based in Taipei, tweeted on Thursday that President’s Tsai Ing-wen’s diplomatic efforts had led international allies to come to Taiwan’s aid during its worst coronavirus outbreak.

Twitter Taiwan KMT
Photo: Alan C. via Twitter, HKFP remix.

“To be honest, I am very proud that President Tsai has built Taiwan’s relationship with other democracies so well that countries like Japan and US are coming to Taiwan’s aid so quickly, without Taiwan having to lose its integrity, dignity and sovereignty,” his tweet read.

“The fact is that if it were [the Kuomintang, KMT] which would focus on building ties with China, this would mean bowing down to China and sacrificing Taiwan’s integrity and sovereignty for the sake of a low-quality relationship based on subservience, subpar vaccines and democratic decline,” the tweet thread continued.

Taiwan was touted as a world leader in containing Covid-19 until mid-May, when an outbreak mainly concentrated in the Taipei region caught a largely unvaccinated population unawares.

The current outbreak has prompted Japan to donate 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca, while the US has pledged 750,000 doses as part of its plan to distribute vaccines worldwide.

In response to Ngerng’s tweet, the KMT’s official twitter account blasted the activist as a “white supremacist.”

“The cognitive dissonance of being such an extreme white supremacist whilst being a PoC [person of colour] must be extremely painful, for you,” the tweet read. “And before you respond with ‘but muh japan,’ please read up on the history and popularity of why anime is so popular in the land of the rising sun.”

The outburst drew rapid criticism from Taiwanese Twitter users.

“This comment from the #KMT can only be described as deranged. I confess tremendous relief they’re not in charge of pandemic response,” one tweet read.

The party later deleted the reply and issued an apology.

“Regarding KMT twitter account’s reply to Roy Ngerng’s tweet, the content was indeed inappropriate and inconsiderate. We would like to sincerely apologize to anyone that might be offended by the content of the reply,” it read.

Replying to HKFP’s queries, the party said it had issued apologies to members of the foreign and local media, and will send an official apology letter to Ngerng.

“In response to today’s incident, we have begun to review the relevant procedural controls to prevent similar mistakes from occurring in the future. We once again apologize to the public and foreign friends, sorry,” its statement read.

‘Unhealthy for Taiwan’s politics’

“I thank [the KMT] for apologizing. It is appropriate to do so,” Ngerng said in a statement to HKFP.

The party also personally reached out to the activist to apologise, saying that “the offensive message was by no means the intent of the party,” Ngerng told HKFP. The KMT spokesperson said a party volunteer accidentally tweeted in a personal capacity from the official account.

KMT Taiwan flags
Photo: Alan C. via Flickr.

Ngerng also drew parallels between the tweet’s tone and the aggressive internet messages deployed by Chinese internet trolls. “[The KMT’s] now-deleted post has a similar tone and posture to propaganda narratives and information operations conducted by the Chinese government… if this is the mindset behind how [KMT] conducts itself, it is unhealthy for Taiwan’s politics,” the activist said.

“If the KMT wants to play a meaningful role in Taiwan’s politics and as an opposition, it has to adapt to the times. Instead of positioning itself towards China, it would be more fruitful to re-orientate towards the needs of Taiwanese and young people.”

Taiwan’s vaccine procurement has encountered hiccups and health officials have suggested it has been influenced by political pressure from Beijing. China sees the democratically self-ruled island as a breakaway province and considers any official diplomatic engagement with it as an affront to its own sovereignty.

Taiwan election January 10 Democratic Progressive Party DPP Tsai Ing-wen
Photo: KM/United Social Press.

The KMT is already struggling to appeal to younger voters. Its traditional pro-China stance has become increasingly unpopular since Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2019 and subsequent national security crackdown, which many Taiwanese see as a warning for what they could face in the event of unification.

Taiwan had reported a total of 12,222 confirmed cases and 361 deaths as of Thursday. It had administered around 740,000 doses to its population of around 24 million.

Update 11.06.21: This article was updated to include the KMT’s response.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.