The novel coronavirus outbreak in China provides the latest evidence that Taiwan should be allowed into the World Health Organization, the latter’s de facto diplomats in Atlanta said during a Chinese New Year celebration Friday.
China considers the self-governing island of 23 million people a province and has blocked its participation in the United Nations and affiliated organizations with increasing zeal over the last few years.
But with the threat of the 2019-nCoV spreading, some experts and world leaders have said excluding Taiwan could hamper the global response. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said as much in a recent legislative session, while Canada’s Justin Trudeau also welcomed more participation from Taiwan in multilateral forums.
Taiwan, which has seen just 10 coronavirus cases so far, also risks potential economic harm from being lumped in with the WHO’s figures on mainland China, where most of the 14,000 cases and more than 360 deaths have occurred in the interior Hubei province. Nonetheless, Italy has grounded flights to Taiwan, which operates separate health and aviation systems.
Daniel Hung, acting director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta, echoed his newly re-elected president, the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen, in calling for the WHO to put people over politics when considering whether to invite Taiwan’s participation.
“Disease knows no boundaries. Taiwan’s participation in the WHO is urgent not just to Taiwan but also to the world, especially now, when the 2019 coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, has spread to other countries,” Mr. Hung said in prepared remarks.
Mr. Hung also thanked former Georgia Congressman Tom Price, who served as President Donald Trump’s first health and human services secretary before being forced to resign over the use of costly chartered planes on public business.
Dr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon turned politician, voiced support for Taiwan’s inclusion at the WHO’s World Health Assembly in 2017. He has since spoken during at least one health conference in Taipei.
Mr. Price and his wife joined hundreds of other attendees at the Chinese Community Center’s entertainment-packed Lunar New Year Celebration Banquet. They shared a table with fellow Republican Karen Handel, who won a special election for Mr. Price’s vacated seat in Georgia’s sixth district in 2017 but lost in a close race to Democrat Lucy McBath the following year. Ms. Handel hopes to reclaim the seat in this year’s election.
Similar to its views on the WHO, Taiwan has made safety-related arguments in bids to join the International Civil Aviation Organization, as well as the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol. It remains locked out of those two bodies, along with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Beijing, meanwhile, has accused the island of “lies and excuses” designed to further its WHO case. China’s foreign ministry representatives have cited “smooth” communications with “compatriots” across the Taiwan strait, noting that Taiwanese health officials were allowed early on to visit Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and have been kept in the loop as the situation has developed.
In his speech Friday, Mr. Hung stressed Taiwan’s democratic values, noting that President Tsai won a landslide victory in the Republic of China’s seventh direct presidential election Jan. 11, the same day China reported the first death from the coronavirus.
“We look forward to continuing our cooperation with like-minded partners to uphold universal values and promote prosperity, national development, international health and human rights,” he said.
The event was part of a week of Chinese New Year festivities that drew more than 4,000 people. Mr. Hung was standing in for former Director General Vincent Jing-Yen Liu, who had left for his next posting earlier in the week. His replacement at the TECO office, which represents Taiwanese interests in six Southeastern states, is expected to arrive soon.
Taiwan’s China Airlines and EVA Airways joined Georgia Power among the many sponsors of the dinner, which drew many local members of the Overseas Community Affairs Council of the Republic of China, Taiwan.
Look for an interview with outgoing Director General Liu on Global Atlanta soon.