Amid the unprecedented outbreak of novel coronavirus, while more than 200 countries have been battling with the pandemic, a fresh diplomatic row has erupted between China and western powers about the inclusion of Taiwan in World Health Organization (WHO). First supported by the United States, many countries are now calling for Taiwan to either be allowed into the WHO or be given observer status.
Taiwan has been arguing that the coronavirus pandemic has made it more urgent than ever that it be allowed proper access to the WHO. While earlier Taiwan found little diplomatic support, it’s response to pandemic has brought it in the spotlight with several countries supporting its inclusion. As China has been heavily criticized by the US and scrutinized world over for its COVID-19 response, Taiwan won praises as it managed to keep its infections as low as 433 with only 7 deaths.
On April 27, Taiwan first pushed for its participation in the WHO in a ministerial call with the United States to discuss key health issues. On May 2, the United States tweeted its support for Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations, provoking a sharp response from China expressing “strong indignation and firm opposition.”
On May 6, Taiwan made a new push for its inclusion and country’s Health Minister said its exclusion from the upcoming World Health Assembly would harm the global response to the coronavirus pandemic and cannot be excused by mere rules of procedure.
Showing support for Taiwan, the leaders of the United States' congressional foreign affairs committees wrote to 60 ‘like-minded’ countries on May 8 asking them to support Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organisation.
In a report published on May 12, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO during the pandemic has real implications both for the international community and for the self-governing island. It added that "the lives lost as a result of these missteps offer a tragic reminder of how global health is compromised by the WHO’s politically-motivated exclusion of Taiwan.”
Amid the mounting pressure from western powers, China finally agreed for the inclusion of Taiwan in WHO but on condition of accepting Chinese status. Rejecting the condition, Taiwan’s Health Minister said, “I have no way to accept something which does not exist.”
“The United Nations is an international organization composed of sovereign states. Taiwan as a province of China is completely not qualified and has no right to participate in it,” a statement on the Chinese embassy website read.
“What should be pointed out is that in recent years the leaders of the Taiwan authorities have been clamouring for "returning to the United Nations". It is grossly obvious that this is an attempt to split the state sovereignty, which is devoid of any legal or practical basis and is doomed to failure,” the website further added.
Yes! In 1948 when the health body was created, Taiwan was a founding member of the WHO. However, it was expelled in 1972 a year after it lost the ‘China’ seat at the United Nations to the People's Republic of China.
Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has been ruling separately since 1949 after the Nationalists lost a civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan to set up a rival government. China calls Taiwan its own territory and does not support any international recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign nation.
Between 2009 and 2016, when relations were warmer, China allowed Taiwan to attend the WHA as an observer under the name "Chinese Taipei". After Tsai Ing-wen was elected as President of Taiwan in 2016, things took a different turned and the relations turned sour. Tsai Ing-wen’s party sees Taiwan as a de facto independent nation.
Amid the unprecedented outbreak of coronavirus, Taiwan has been arguing that it is unfair to exclude its 23 million population from the health body. Taiwan’s supporters are also of the opinion that it can be a model for COVID handling and global leaders and doctors could learn from the island's expertise.
"No one should be treated as an orphan in the health network that the WHA should look after," Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen said in a press briefing.
After United States President Donald Trump accused the world health body of being China-centric, the WHO has come under scrutiny. Taiwan’s exclusion is once raising questions about Beijing's influence over the WHO. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said only member states, with the consent of "the relevant government", can decide Taiwan’s participation.
Highly unlikely! Taiwan is recognized as a nation by only 15 countries and the chances of 194 countries within the WHO supporting the island seem dim. Remember, Taiwan’s bid was to seek membership was comprehensively defeated in 2007. However, countries like Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand joined the US in publicly calling for Taiwan to be given observer status at the WHA. An infuriated China accused Western governments of using Taiwan to distract from their own shortcomings of COVID-19 response.