On Monday, May 24, Taiwan’s government heavily criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) in what it calls the organization’s “indifference” to the health rights of the Taiwanese people and for its capitulation to China. Taiwan’s slamming of the WHO comes after failing to secure an invite to the organization’s annual world health forum.
For several months, Taiwan and a coalition of major western powers had been lobbying intensely to gain access as an observer at the forum. Significantly, the Group of 7 (G7) countries: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, and the United States for the first time even announced their joint support for Taiwan’s plead for observer status in the WHO’s top decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA). The virtual forum began on May 24 and is to continue onto June 1.
Although, despite the combined international support, no invitation would be granted, leaving the self-governed island excluded for its fifth consecutive year, according to Taiwan’s government.
In a joint statement released on the same day, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung announced the Taiwanese government would continue to push for its participation.
In a clear reference to China, Chen stated, “As a professional international health body, the World Health Organization should serve the health and welfare of all humanity and not capitulate to the political interests of a certain member”. Wu then continued, expressing disappointment at the “WHO Secretariat’s indifference to the health rights of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people” and pleaded for the organization to “maintain a professional and neutral stance”, and “reject China’s political interference”.
Taiwan’s statement also went further by directly accusing China of taking advantage of the island’s recent coronavirus outbreak by spreading disinformation. According to Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), floods of fake online reports including, mass cremations and dumping bodies in rivers, have been traced to mainland Chinese internet addresses. This false information comes in addition to China’s claims of offering Taiwan critically needed coronavirus vaccines, drawing sharp criticism from Taipei, which has accused Beijing of obstructing Taiwan’s obtaining new vaccines.
Since the 2016 election of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who strongly rejects China’s sovereignty claims, Taipei has been effectively barred from participation in global organizations due to strong objections from Beijing. Rather than view it as a separate country, The Chinese government considers Taiwan as one of its provinces and has continued to wage an assertive isolation campaign on the island democracy. China asserts Taiwan’s participation in the WHO will be on the conditions it accepts that it is part of “One China” and that only Beijing can speak for the island, conditions which Taipei will not give in to.
Beijing and its ally, Pakistan has also condemned Taiwan’s supporters, with the G7 countries particularly, in a statement.
“We urge relevant countries to stop health issues and using Taiwan issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs”, stated Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the United Nations.
However, the coronavirus pandemic appears to have solidified support for the Taiwanese people. Taiwan has been regarded as a prime example of success in fighting the pandemic, especially in the early waves as it overcame its own virus outbreaks. It is supplying medical equipment internationally. The island democracy’s strategies have become a blueprint for handling the pandemic, and its participants could be critical in sharing medical expertise. As Taiwan is now facing its first coronavirus surge since the pandemic began with more than 3,000 new confirmed cases since the beginning of May, assistance, and inclusion into the WHO is paramount. The political pressure from one country should not be able to legitimize the silencing and exclusion of another entity such as Taiwan on the international stage.
Taiwan’s Health Minister, Chen Shih-Chung said in a statement that its exclusion has been, “not only a loss for Taiwan but also the rest of the world”. He added, “The world needs to share all available information and expertise in a collective fight against disease”.