Taiwan Again Denied Invitation to WHO Meeting

Despite its considerable success in defeating COVID-19 and widespread calls from the U.S. and Europe for its inclusion, Taiwan has again been denied an invite to a key World Health Assembly meeting, the second time it has been excluded from a key WHO meeting this year. Taiwan’s foreign ministry blamed ‘obstruction’ from China for the WHO’s refusal to extend an invitation.

The meeting, which began on Monday, was convened to coordinate the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Al Jazeera reported that the lack of an invite came despite Taiwan’s impressive record with the coronavirus and the support of hundreds of parliamentarians from the United States and Europe:

It has been more than 200 days since Taiwan last reported a case of the coronavirus and it is eager to share its experience and expertise as other countries struggle with escalating outbreaks.

The US has supported the island’s participation, and nearly 650 members of parliament from 25 European countries sent an open letter to the WHO chief last week calling for Taiwan to be invited as an observer. The World Medical Association also wrote to Ghebreyesus reiterating its call for the island to be given observer status.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is proof that cooperation for and with all health care systems in the world is necessary,” wrote [World Medical Association] Chair of Council Dr Frank Montgomery. “Therefore, we believe it is both cynical and counterproductive to continue excluding the health representatives from Taiwan from participating in the World Health Assembly and the technical meetings of the WHO. Even more so since Taiwan has so much to offer in expertise and material help.” [Source]

China has been forceful in its opposition to allowing Taiwan to be represented at the WHO. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Bonnie Glaser, a secret memorandum of understanding signed in 2009 established that the WHO must seek permission from Beijing before extending meeting invitations to Taiwan. On Monday, Reuters reported that China described the inclusion of Taiwan in the upcoming meeting as “invalid and illegal,” claiming that it would violate the principle of “One China.”

On Tuesday, efforts by Taiwan’s allies to raise the issue of its inclusion during the WHA’s meeting were quickly shot down:

This is not the first time this year that Taiwan has been denied an invitation to a WHO conference. In May, it was also barred from joining a key World Health Assembly meeting. But Taiwan’s foreign ministry said at the time that it would put off the issue of its participation until later in the year, citing the need to allow the assembly to focus its attention on COVID-19.

Taiwan has had a complicated relationship with the WHO and the People’s Republic throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, Taiwanese officials accused the WHO of failing to share early warnings in December by its health officials about the possibility of human-to-human transmission from a new virus in China. As the Financial Times reported, Taiwan alerted the WHO after its doctors heard from mainland colleagues that medical workers there were getting sick:

Taiwan said its doctors had heard from mainland colleagues that medical staff were getting ill — a sign of human-to-human transmission. Taipei officials said they reported this to both International Health Regulations (IHR), a WHO framework for exchange of epidemic prevention and response data between 196 countries, and Chinese health authorities on December 31.

Taiwanese government officials told the Financial Times the warning was not shared with other countries.

“While the IHR’s internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on the epidemic and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s [Centers for Disease Control] is being put up there,” said Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s vice-president. [Source]

The WHO has come under heavy fire this year from critics who allege that it has been excessively deferential to Beijing amid the pandemic. CDT last week covered Beijing’s aggressive efforts to resist an investigation into its early handling of the virus, including its hobbling of an inquiry by top WHO experts, when they visited the country in February.

“Divisions between and within countries have provided fertile ground for this fast-moving virus to grow and gain the upper hand,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, told The New York Times, in their extensive investigation into the WHO’s relationship with Beijing that was published last week. “Leadership in a crisis such as this requires listening, understanding, trust and moving forward together.” But as the WHO moves ahead without Taiwan, it is unlikely to reassure critics of the body’s independence from Beijing.

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