More than six decades after Taiwan's estrangement, healthcare officials in Taipei are hoping one of the roads to China and improved economic relations with the mainland runs through medical tourism.
More than 550 leaders from local and international providers joined with the Medical Tourism Association this week in Taipei to discuss collaborative ventures that will increase patient travel to Taiwan from around the world, particularly across the Taiwan Strait, where the Chinese government wants to send its people and make healthcare more affordable and accessible.
The goal will also be to bring Taiwanese expertise to the mainland in efforts to raise the standard of care for local facilities through collaboration and investment in new facilities.
Borders between one country and another should not get in the way of medical services, said Renee-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association, who addressed Medical Tourism Innovation & Sustainability: Trends and Opportunities, at the 2013 Taiwan Medical Tourism Forum.
Access to healthcare infrastructure can go a long way toward healing patients and creating jobs, economic stability and an understanding of each sovereign group that can sometimes even soften disputes.
The forum, at the Taipei International Convention Center, was sponsored by the Bureau of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Economic Affairs and TAITRA (Taiwan External Trade Development Council), a non-profit government co-sponsored trade promotion organization on the island.
Thaw in Relations
Stephano met with Chinese industry leaders including Fu Jene-John, president of Shanghai Ruidong Hospital which has an ongoing relationship with a Taiwanese healthcare facility for patient exchange.
She said governments and hospitals need to cooperate with each other to develop sustainable medical tourism strategies and accredited programs that support aftercare in Taiwan and enable access to services for all Chinese people.
China and Taiwan moved closer to soothing hostilities with each other following a trade agreement signed in June that allows each to invest in the other’s service sectors, including banking.
The pact also drastically expands direct flights and allows shipping links critical medical tourism infrastructure between the two countries. The deal follows a dramatic thaw in relations since Taiwan broke away from China in 1949 at the end of a deadly civil war.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou defended the controversial trade pact with China following protests against the deal, saying it would benefit the island’s economy.
The Taiwan government has come under criticism for signing the agreement with Beijing to further open up the service sector trade. Scores of protesters gathered outside a hotel in Taipei where Ma was attending a conference during the week.
China hopes that increased economic integration and physical infrastructure that the government hopes to build across the Taiwan Strait will bring the country a step forward to fulfilling a core geopolitical imperative by reuniting with the island.
Taiwan's president has said his government will not back down in terms of sovereignty if claims between the two countries are not settled, but that resources can still be shared in certain situations. Ma says his peace initiative not only emphasizes that no sovereignty claim would be affected, but also enables all sides to set aside differences and carry out talks related to natural resources.
The South China Morning Post reported that in its recently approved National Highway Network Plan for 2013-2030, the Chinese State Council included two highway projects linking Taiwan to the mainland. The plan, however, does not say what type of infrastructure a bridge or tunnel would be used to connect the mainland to Taipei over the 111-mile Taiwan Strait.