The World Health Organization (WHO) will not extend an invitation to Taiwan to attend this week’s World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s annual meeting. According to a Reuters article dated May 17, the decision comes after the WHO faced pressure from China to exclude Taiwan from the assembly unless it accepted it was part of China. Taiwan refused to do so. According to NPR, Taiwan has received worldwide recognition for its ability to limit the spread of COVID-19, with only 440 confirmed cases and seven deaths reported to date. However, BBC notes that China has blocked Taiwan from attending the assembly since 2016. Taiwan’s exclusion has been met with widespread criticism, particularly from the United States.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom had the ability to include and invite Taiwan, “yet, he instead chose not to invite Taiwan under pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Director-General’s lack of independence deprives the Assembly of Taiwan’s renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO’s credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most.” In a statement to reporters, Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu explained, “Despite all our efforts and an unprecedented level of international support, Taiwan has not received an invitation to take part. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses deep regret and strong dissatisfaction that the World Health Organization Secretariat has yielded to pressure from the Chinese government and continues to disregard the right to health of the 23 million people of Taiwan.” Chinese state news agency Xinhua defended its stance on Taiwan: “There is only one China in the world. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.”
According to a CNN article dated May 15, numerous countries have voiced support for Taiwan to join the WHA most notably the United States, Japan, and New Zealand. Taiwan has been one of the more successful countries to combat the spread of coronavirus. According to CNN, Taiwan banned incoming travel from parts of mainland China as early as January and banned cruise ships from docking in its ports shortly thereafter. Taiwan also increased its mask production in March. All of these efforts combined has led to only 440 confirmed cases and 7 deaths in a country with a population of more than 23 million people. In a statement, the US State Department called Taiwan’s measures “one of the world’s most successful efforts to contain the pandemic to date.” It adds that Taiwan should be seen as an example that the international community should follow to curb the spread of COVID-19. It seems, therefore, that Taiwan’s presence at the WHA would be of great benefit to the global community as Taiwanese doctors and experts would have the platform to share their experiences and strategies.
However, Taiwan has been blocked from WHO meetings since 2016. Taiwan is also not a member of the WHO, so it can only attend as an observer. From 2009-2016, Taiwan was governed by the Kuomintang which CNN notes is Beijing-friendly. Thus, Taiwan was granted access to the WHA as an observer. However, in 2016, the Democratic Progressive Party was elected into office, which CNN identifies as being pro-independence. Taiwan’s ties with China worsened as a result, and Taiwan has not been invited back to the WHA since. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Taiwan-China relations have been contentious since the Chinese Civil War, which resulted in the Kuomintang fleeing to Taiwan and independently governing the island. While the article notes that economic relations have been very strong, the main point of contention arises over Taiwan’s sovereignty: whether Taiwan is an independent state or a region of China (One China). This political tension has led China to push the WHO to exclude Taiwan from any meetings unless Taiwan accepts the One China policy.
It is rather unfortunate that during this global humanitarian crisis a country that seems to have answers is unable to voice them due to political pressure. CNN notes that Taiwan has donated millions of masks and adopted the slogan “Taiwan can help”. In addition, BBC and the US State Department note that Taiwan has had one of the most successful battles against COVID-19 to date. The Council on Foreign Relations notes, however, that Director-General Tedros Adhanom has been very vocal in supporting China’s coronavirus response and has criticized other nations for not following China’s example. As long as Adhanom continues to support China by allowing China to exert its influence over the WHO, Taiwan may have difficulty voicing its solutions through the WHO.
One would hope that Taiwan finds another platform to share its experiences and assist other nations in limiting the spread of coronavirus.