Taipei, Taiwan: Taiwan hit out at China on Monday over its continued exclusion from a crucial annual gathering of World Health Organization members which starts this week and is focused on averting the next pandemic catastrophe.
The 74th World Health Assembly, which kicks off Monday, will arguably be one of the most important in the WHO’s history, amid calls to revamp the organization and the entire global approach to health in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Taiwan — which had one of the world’s best pandemic responses — remains locked out for the fifth consecutive year, despite growing international support for its inclusion.
That is because China, which views the self-ruled democracy as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, has waged an increasingly assertive campaign to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage.
On Monday foreign minister Joseph Wu urged the WHO to “maintain a professional and neutral stance, reject China’s political interference” and allow Taiwan’s participation in its meetings and activities.
“China has continued to falsely claim that appropriate arrangements have been made for Taiwan’s participation in WHO. This wholly deviates from reality,” said Wu.
Beijing’s block on Taipei from attending the WHA as an observer began after the 2016 election of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to acknowledge the island is part of “one China”.
But the coronavirus pandemic crystallized support for Taiwan’s 23 million inhabitants, especially in the early days of the crisis when it defeated its own outbreak and then began supplying protection equipment around the world.
Taiwan has been hailed as an example in combating the pandemic although clusters in recent weeks have seen infections more than triple to 4,917 cases.
The island has recorded 29 deaths so far.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the recent “escalation” of cases showed Taiwan “cannot remain on the sidelines and there should not be a gap in global disease prevention”.
“The WHO should serve the health and welfare of all humanity and not capitulate to the political interests of a certain member,” Chen said in a statement.
International support for Taiwan has been stronger this year, including a communique issued by G7 foreign ministers that backed Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in WHO and the WHA”.
In a separate announcement on Monday, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre blamed “external forces” for a flood of online disinformation during the latest cluster such as hospitals dumping bodies in rivers and mass cremations.
While officials did not name China, they said much of the disinformation going viral was written in the simplified Chinese used on the mainland, not the traditional characters used in Taiwan.
“Spreading disinformation is a very serious matter, it interferes with our country’s anti-pandemic measures and responses while causing unnecessary panic among the public,” CECC deputy chief Chen Tsung-yen said.