Taiwan for years has been barred from obtaining observer-status at the WHO because of the Chinese regime’s objections. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the self-ruled island has further protested its exclusion from the U.N.’s health agency, saying this was hampering global efforts to contain the disease.
“This COVID-19 outbreak only further underlines the unacceptability of Taiwan being excluded from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Health Assembly because the People’s Republic of China blocks every attempt to do so,” Jonathan Fritz, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Feb. 27.
“We continue to push back very, very hard against that with as many of our like-minded partners as possible, and I think our argument is only bolstered now by the outbreak,” Fritz added.
The Chinese regime considers Taiwan as part of its territory and has worked to block the island’s membership in many international bodies. Democratically-governed Taiwan says that it is separate from the communist regime and should thus have separate representation in international fora.
Taiwan, which has 34 confirmed cases of the virus, has been excluded from taking part in meetings about the outbreak held by the WHO Emergency Committee. But in a small diplomatic breakthrough, it was recently allowed to participate in an online technical meeting on the virus.
The WHO also groups Taiwan’s virus cases with China’s, so the island is thus classified by the agency as “very high risk.” As a result, some countries have imposed travel curbs for arrivals who have visited the island, prompting protests from Taiwan.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has also previously called out the Chinese regime for reporting incorrect information to the WHO about the number of cases on the island.
Fritz said the Chinese regime’s isolation of Taiwan has impeded international efforts to stem the spread of the outbreak.
“To the extent that they are unable to get timely information from the WHO that impacts public health on Taiwan,” he said.
“On the other hand, Taiwan has a lot of expertise … they have their own epidemiological track record now dealing with COVID-19, and to the extent that that is not being shared in a complete and timely fashion with other WTO members, clearly, that doesn’t do anything for the public health of the rest of the international community,” Fritz added.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) at the same hearing urged the Chinese regime “to do the right thing” and allow for Taiwan to become a full member of the WHO.
“It’s a shame that the PRC … allows its intransigence with respect to Taiwan to put not only the people of Taiwan, and its own people, but the rest of the world more at risk than we ought to be.”
Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, had urged the WHO Executive Board in Geneva on Feb. 6 to allow Taiwan’s participation in meetings related to the coronavirus outbreak.
“For the rapidly evolving coronavirus, it is a technical imperative that WHO present visible public health data on Taiwan as an affected area, and engage directly with Taiwan public health authorities on actions,” Bremberg said.