Neighbours help out as fighting virus trumps old rivalries

Published May 8, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Agence France-Presse

Face masks are delivered across dividing lines in Ireland and Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates sends medical supplies to rival Iran, and China and Japan exchange rare warm words.

The United Arab Emirates sent a military plane carrying UN medical experts and aid to Iran, despite tensions with (AFP/File / KARIM SAHIB / MANILA BULLETIN)
The United Arab Emirates sent a military plane carrying UN medical experts and aid to Iran, despite tensions with (AFP/File / KARIM SAHIB / MANILA BULLETIN)

The coronavirus pandemic may have exacerbated global tensions, especially between the United States and China. But in some cases it has also sparked cooperation between longtime rivals.

In one ray of light amid the gloom, Northern Ireland’s unionist Orange Order last month secured a shipment of personal protective equipment for distribution both north and south of the border with the Republic of Ireland.

That was highly unusual as unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, are usually wary of cross-border cooperation, seeing it as a gateway to Irish unification.

But the Belfast executive, which includes unionists, also signed a non-binding deal with Dublin to beef up cooperation.

“We face a common challenge,” said Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann, from the hardline Democratic Unionist Party.

“Facing that challenge will test us as never before.”

His comment echoed the words of Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, who argued in March that “both the epidemic itself and the resulting economic crisis are global problems (requiring) global cooperation”.

Writing in the Financial Times, Harari warned that “a collective paralysis has gripped the international community” as the world faces a choice between “nationalist isolation and global solidarity”.

Reaching across borders 

Calls by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in March for a “global ceasefire” also appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with fighting continuing in battlefields from Libya to Yemen.

Yet in some cases, the need to fight the virus has trumped old rivalries.

On the divided island of Cyprus, the government last month sent 4,000 items of protective equipment and 2,000 chloroquine tablets across the UN-guarded ceasefire line to help the breakaway north.

It was a rare act of goodwill between the EU member and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-backed coup.

But the delivery, nearly three years after peace talks collapsed, came under fire from nationalist politicians.

Prime minister Ersin Tatar accused TRNC president Mustafa Akinci of breaking customs regulations and argued that “if we need something, we request it from Turkey”.

The health minister in the north, Ali Pilli, begged to differ, telling news channel BRT TV that “no matter where (the aid) comes from, we accept it”.