Why Taiwan has become a problem for WHO despite coronavirus success

Why Taiwan has become a problem for WHO despite coronavirus success
Taiwan has been excluded from the WHO. Source: EPA
4 Min Read

Daily US Times: Taiwan is among the few places in the world who successfully stemmed the spread of the coronavirus without resorting to draconian measures. But despite its efforts, it is still effectively locked out of membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) because of its decades long complicated relationship with China.

This all exploded over the weekend when a top WHO official avoided questions about Taiwan in a TV interview. The clip has gone viral, attracted criticism and even accusations of bias.

What happened?

Bruce Aylward, the WHO assistant director-general, gave an interview to Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK which was aired on Sunday. Journalist Yvonne Tong took the interview via a video call.

When the journalist asked if the WHO would reconsider letting Taiwan join the organization, Mr Aylward stayed silent for relatively long and then said he cannot hear her and asks to move on to another question.

Ms Tong presses him again, saying she would like to talk about Taiwan. At this point, Mr Aylward appears to hang up on her.

The journalist then called him again and asked if he could comment on Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus.

Mr Aylward then replies: “Well, we’ve already talked about China.”

The reply appeared to mirror China’s stance on Taiwan, which is that the island is a breakaway province. Taiwan, however, considers itself an independent country.

What is Taiwan’s relationship with the WHO?

The clip of the interview quickly went viral across social media and created a lot of criticism and WHO’s biases against Taiwan. Mr Aylward’s reaction was widely seen as indicative of the awkward relationship Taiwan has with the WHO. The country is not a member of the organization.

Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations. WHO’s membership is only given to countries that are members of the UN.

As Taiwan is not a member of WHO, that means the country has been excluded from emergency meetings and important global expert briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. It also means WHO lists Taiwan’s coronavirus statistics together with China’s.

The island country has been denied permission to attend the World Health Assembly’s annual meetings in recent years, said Stanley Kao, a Taiwanese official.

Mr Kao said as the WHO count’s Taiwan’s coronavirus cases with China, it denies the world of accurate and timely information on the pandemic.

WHO’s repeated praise of China’s response to the outbreak and exclusion of Taiwan has led some to accuse the organization of political bias towards China, a major contributor to the organization.

WHO is not the only global body that does not officially recognize Taiwan. Other major examples include the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Olympics Committee follow the same ”rule”.

Taiwan prides itself on having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Of all the other international groups, the WHO is perhaps the most important to Taiwan.

In the past, Taiwan has good relations with Beijing and had an observer at the World Health Assembly, but it lost this status in recent years as tensions have increased between Taipei and Beijing.

What’s the response been like to the interview?

WHO was forced to comment after the video interview went viral. It says Taiwanese membership was not for its staff to answer, it is instead “up to WHO member states”.

It also said it has been working with Taiwanese health experts and authorities to ensure speedy information flow and to share best practices.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen replied to the WHO statement on Monday, saying: she “hoped that all countries after experiencing this outbreak would better understand Taiwan’s capabilities and areas of contribution, to seriously consider Taiwan’s participation in the global response to the pandemic”.

She said: “Taiwan’s stance has always been clear: it has the capability and willingness to work with countries in health protection, and is also willing to share useful experiences.”

Others have also lambasted Mr Aylward and the WHO following the interview.

China did not make any official comment yet on the matter.

Despite the political distance, China and Taiwan China continue to battle the virus. Both are among a number of Asian locations facing a second wave of infections caused by returning residents from other regions such as Europe.

Taiwan has confirmed 300 confirmed cases as of Monday, with a population of about 24 million people. Only five deaths reported there.

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