TAIPEI, Taiwan—As countries around the world seek to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Taiwan has been excluded from international discussions organized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In response, U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) and 15 other lawmakers of the GOP Doctors Caucus, a group of medical doctors in Congress, have written a letter to WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urging Taiwan to be included in the WHO.
The Chinese regime claims Taiwan as part of its territory—despite the fact that the self-ruled island has its own democratically-elected government, currency, and military—and thus considers itself a representative of Taiwan.
Beijing has pressured international organizations to accept China’s sovereignty claims, including the WHO.
Thus, Taiwan is not a WHO member state. From 2009 to 2016, Taiwan’s health ministers took part in the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the WHO, as observers. But since 2017, Taiwan has been barred by China from taking part in the assembly and its meetings.
“Public health should not be political & the WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan is just that. This decision threatens the health security of all,” Babin wrote in a March 9 tweet, where he also shared copies of the letter sent to Ghebreyesus.
Since the start of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Taiwan has been excluded from taking part in meetings held by the WHO Emergency Committee.
The U.S. letter, dated March 6, stated that lawmakers had “deep concern” about the WHO’s “continued marginalization of Taiwan” during the outbreak.
“The ongoing exclusion of Taiwan from the WHO during this epidemic has put people in Taiwan and around the world at greater risk while harming both the integrity of the WHO and the security of member states,” the letter stated.
The letter questioned whether Taiwan’s only death in connection to the virus could have been prevented if Taiwan were not excluded from the WHO. It added that Taiwan’s proximity to China was another reason the island state should become part of the international organization. Taiwan is located just across the strait from Fujian Province.
“We urge you to ignore the pressure and bullying of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and allow Taiwan’s participation in this fight [against the coronavirus],” the letter added.
The lawmakers asked that Ghebreyesus “extend a direct invitation to Taiwan to participate in person in all WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities, including the upcoming 73rd World Health Assembly in Geneva” in May.
Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thanked the 16 U.S. lawmakers in a daily briefing on March 10, according to Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency.
Ou said that Beijing has continued to oppress Taiwan and limit the island’s international presence amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Taiwanese lawmaker Wang Ting-yu also thanked the U.S. lawmakers in a tweet on March 10: “As the Congressman rightly pointed out, neither Taiwan nor the int’l community is served by restricting #Taiwan’s access to timely public health information.”
Taiwan Offers Assistance
At the time of writing, Taiwan has 47 confirmed infections and one death. Experts have attributed the relatively low numbers to the success of the government’s containment measures. The island was among the first to bar entry to all travelers who recently visited China.
More than 400,000 Taiwanese citizens work in mainland China, according to Taiwan government figures, out of the island’s total population of 23 million.
Taiwan officials began boarding planes to assess the health of passengers from China after Wuhan authorities confirmed the outbreak on Dec. 31, 2019.
Despite Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO, the Taiwanese government has provided assistance to other nations, and begun developing its own technology for virus diagnosis.
On March 6, Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib thanked Taiwan for providing information about virus containment measures, posting on Twitter a letter sent from Taiwan’s representative to his city. Hrib had signed a sister-city deal with Taiwan’s capital of Taipei in January.
The letter stated that Taiwan had sent a package about big data analytics, hygiene education materials, and virus testing.
“Despite intensive contact with mainland China, they have managed to keep the situation under control,” Hrib wrote in the tweet.
On March 8, Taiwan’s government-run Academia Sinica, one of the island’s leading research institutes, announced that its team of scientists has developed antibodies that can identify the protein of the virus, officially named SARS-CoV-2. This paves the way for a new diagnostic test that can detect the virus within 15 minutes, according to local media.
On March 9, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote in a tweet that body samples of suspected patients sent from the island nation of Palau have tested negative. The South Pacific island is one of Taiwan’s 14 diplomatic allies.
“We are more than willing to work with our allies & partners around the world,” Tsai wrote.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the TAIPEI Act, which calls for strengthening of economic ties with Taiwan and voices U.S. support for Taiwan’s participation in appropriate international organizations.
“It is imperative that America encourages our allies and partners to strengthen their diplomatic ties with Taipei, and that we ensure that Taiwan has a seat at the international decision-making table, including at the United Nations,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated in a press release following the bill’s passage.