Taiwan Requests to Participate in UN Assembly Amid Pandemic 

September 11, 2020 Updated: September 17, 2020

News analysis

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan’s request to attend this year’s U.N. General Assembly bears extra weight to world leaders: Taiwan is one of the few nations successfully dealing with the current health crisis, while the Chinese regime has been criticized by many countries for covering up information in the early stages of the pandemic.

Under political pressure from China, the international organization is likely to exclude Taiwan again from attending the General Assembly, which will be held from Sept. 15 to 30 in New York, United States.

The Chinese regime considers Taiwan part of its territory, despite the fact that the island operates as a de-facto state, with its own democratically-elected government, military, and currency.

Beijing has continually pressured international organizations, such as the United Nations, to accept China’s sovereignty claims.

“23.5 million people of Taiwan are denied any access to U.N. premises. Taiwanese journalists and media outlets are also denied accreditation to cover UN meetings,” wrote Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu in his recently penned commentary published in several Asian newspapers.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the theme for this year’s assembly will be “The Future We Want, the U.N. We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism.”

Taiwan has not been a part of the U.N. since October 1971.

Due to COVID-19, the U.N. assembly this year will be held virtually for the first time. Diplomats joining the event will be reminded every day of the ongoing pandemic due to the new norm of a virtual meeting environment.

Taiwan, with its high population density, has managed to have less than 500 confirmed cases and seven deaths since the start of COVID-19, while around the world, there have been over 27 million infected, and more than 893,000 deaths.

Experts have attributed Taiwan’s success in curbing the spread of the virus to its early preventive measures, which largely came from its past experience of dealing with epidemics originating from China. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was head of the Mainland Affairs Council—the island’s agency for managing relations with mainland China—during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic in 2003. SARS caused 180 deaths in Taiwan.

Based on its past experience, Taiwan’s Disease Control Agency (DCA) sent two health experts to Wuhan on Jan. 11, upon learning about the city’s mysterious pneumonia-like illness that broke out late last year. DCA held its first news conference on Jan. 16 to address the potential health risk that originated from Wuhan, then quickly established border control measures, and a new Central Epidemic Command Center dealing with the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, other nations have largely relied on information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited Beijing, and met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jan. 28, five days after the lockdown of Wuhan. However, WHO did not declare COVID-19 as a pandemic until March 11.

Taiwan’s success in protecting the island nation from the pandemic has caught the world’s attention. In August, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taiwan to discuss strategies in containing COVID-19—becoming the highest-level U.S. official to visit the island since 1979.

Taiwan has also been making efforts to assist other nations. “Taiwan had donated 51 million surgical masks, 1.16 million N-95 masks, 600,000 isolation gowns, 35,000 forehead thermometers, and other medical materials to more than 80 countries,” Wu said in his commentary.

The U.N., under its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, pledges that “no one will be left behind,” and that because “the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society.”

Wu asserted that the U.N. is working against its own vision, “when Taiwan—one of the world’s model democracies and a success story in containing the current pandemic—continues to be barred from taking part in and exchanging experiences and information with the U.N. system.”

In May, Taiwan was excluded from an annual meeting of the World Health Assembly—the decision-making body of the WHO—despite its success in containing the pandemic.

Since 2017, Taiwan has been barred by China from taking part in the assembly and its meetings.

Wu emphasized in his commentary: “The global community must make a concerted effort to forge the better and more sustainable future. Taiwan is ready, willing, and able to be a part of these efforts.”