Editor’s note/background: Taiwan has been lobbying for more than a decade for membership in the World Health Organization, a U.N. sub-organization that admits only sovereign states. China views self-ruled Taiwan as a province and vehemently opposes its participation in international organizations. The WHO ended Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly in 2016.
When the coronavirus outbreak struck Wuhan, China, Taiwan complained that it was not only excluded from critical early briefings, but also that its own warnings on transmissibility of the virus went unheeded. Some experts have said that if Taiwan were in the WHO, the world would have understood two weeks sooner how contagious the virus is.
In recent weeks, the U.S. has criticized China for hampering the global response by delaying the release of information and silencing critics of its early response. American officials have also blasted the WHO for discouraging travel bans and allegedly being too deferential to China. President Donald Trump said April 14 that he would halt U.S. funding of the WHO pending an investigation into the body’s pandemic response.
Meanwhile, Taiwan been lauded globally for its aggressive response. As of mid-April, the island had seen fewer than 400 cases of Covid-19 and only six deaths, despite its close proximity and deep business ties with China. Taiwan has been donating millions of masks and other personal protective equipment to other countries fighting the pandemic.
During a Chinese New Year celebration in Atlanta in early February, Acting Director-General Daniel Hung of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, its de facto consulate for the Southeast, renewed calls for Taiwan’s WHO inclusion, citing recent utterances of support from U.S. officials, along with the prime ministers of Canada and Japan.
In the below commentary submitted to Global Atlanta, Mr. Hung expounds upon Taiwan’s views and addresses accusations by the WHO director-general that Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed racially motivated attacks on him.
In a press conference at the World Health Organization in Geneva April 8, Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus groundlessly accused Taiwan’s government of encouraging Taiwanese people to discredit him.
It is a pity that the Director-General of WHO would state these false and misleading accusations against our government.
My government condemns all forms of discrimination and regrets any biased statements made against Dr. Tedros. We understand how he feels, given that the 23 million people of Taiwan have long experienced the serious political discrimination of the international health system.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed this point in a press release on Feb. 9, urging individuals and associations to be sensible when encouraging Taiwan’s participation in global public health and disease prevention networks.
Regarding unidentified individuals who have used the Internet to criticize Dr. Tedros’s handling of the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, these personal expressions of opinion are not associated with my government.
It is only reasonable that the global community should monitor the response of WHO and its leader, Dr. Tedros, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Tedros’s unwarranted charges, made without any verification, are contrary to the facts and have caused serious damage to the government and people of Taiwan. Such slander is irresponsible, and the government of Taiwan demands that the Director-General immediately correct his claims, issue a clarification and apologize to the people of Taiwan.
Years of exclusion from the WHO system combined with invaluable lessons learned from the 2003 SARS pandemic prompted Taiwan to take effective preventive response measures against COVID-19.
Taiwan’s proactive tracking, quarantine, mitigation and treatment efforts have minimized the impact on citizens’ daily lives. The international community has widely praised and expressed hope to learn from this Taiwan Model.
Taiwan has also taken action to assist the international community in this time, despite its exclusion from official WHO channels. In its first wave of humanitarian assistance, Taiwan donated crucial supplies, including 10 million medical masks and other necessities, to frontline medical personnel in severely impacted areas.
These supplies have been sent to the United States, Europe, and our diplomatic allies, with 2 million masks sent to the United States alone. On April 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Taiwan will begin a second wave of humanitarian assistance, donating another 6 million masks to the global community, of which 1 million will go to the United States. The state of Georgia will receive 100,000 of these masks.
Granting Taiwan full involvement in WHO would allow us to more effectively share our successful experience with the world and enable us to actively contribute to prevention and containment efforts. Taiwan desires to collaborate with other countries in putting an end to the pandemic as quickly as possible.
As head of WHO, Dr. Tedros should assume the duty to include all parties, as he himself emphasized that “we are only as strong as we are united.”
The government of Taiwan once again calls on the Director-General to put aside political discrimination, maintain neutrality and professionalism, invite Taiwan to fully participate in all WHO meetings and mechanisms regarding COVID-19, and restore Taiwan’s observer status in the World Health Assembly, for the health and wellbeing of the people of Taiwan and all the world.
God bless America and those who are suffering from COVID-19.
Daniel Hung is the acting Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta