Calls for Taiwan to re-join WHO in the wake of its Covid-19 response

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Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (second from left)

AS the World Health Assembly meets this week (May 18 and 19), albeit virtually because of Covid-19, calls have been growing for the return to the World Health Organisation of Taiwan, which has been dealing with coronavirus expertly, Desmond Davies writes.

As of May 13, Taiwan had recorded a total of 440 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 389 recovered and seven deaths.

The island, off mainland China, had observer status at the Geneva-based WHO from 2009 to 2016 until pressure from Beijing forced the Taiwanese representatives out because the Chinese government views Taiwan as a province of China.

Now, in the face of global criticism of China because of its failure to inform the world about the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, pressure is mounting on the WHO to reverse its decision on Taiwan.

The US is leading the call for Taiwan’s return, although many see this as politically motivated.

But the ex-leaders of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen; Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski; Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves; Sweden, Carl Bildt; and the former Danish Health and Interior Minister, Bertel Haarder, have added their voices in support of Taiwan’s return to the Assembly as an observer.

In a letter published in The Guardian newspaper in the UK over the weekend, they argued that Taiwan should help the WHO to fight Covid-19.

They wrote ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of robust multilateral coordination of our efforts – from medical and technological research to the supply of life-saving protective equipment.

‘While countries have pursued their own measures in the face of Covid-19, we have also learned important lessons from each other.

‘In particular, Taiwan’s response to this pandemic is widely considered to have been pioneering, drawing on important lessons from the SARS outbreak in 2003.

‘It is regretful that geopolitics has prevented Taiwan from fully accessing the forums and services of the World Health Organisation – not least as the WHO could have benefited from its expertise,’ the former European political leaders added.

They continued: ‘In the interests of global health coverage, we urge all WHO members to support Taiwan’s access to the World Health Assembly as an observer, as was the case between 2009 and 2016.

‘This will have no wider implications than to ensure that 23 million people with something to offer are not excluded from exchanging best practices.’

Yu-Jie Chen, a Taiwanese academic at Hong Kong University, and Jerome A. Cohen, professor of law at New York University, also made the case for Taiwan’s return to the WHO in an article last month for the US-based think tank, Council on Foreign Relations.

They said the world could learn from Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, pointing out: ‘Taiwan’s success should be attributed to early preparedness, health expertise, government competence, and popular alertness.’

The academics noted that as far back as December 21, the Taiwanese government, ‘alarmed by developments in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus first appeared, expressed concerns to the WHO about the virus’s potential for human-to-human transmission.’

They added: ‘But it received no reply.

‘Instead, the WHO endorsed China’s denial of human-to-human transmission until January 21.

‘While the WHO appeared to downplay the global threat, Taiwan adopted vigorous measures for screening, testing, contact tracing, and enforcing quarantines.

‘These measures were aided by technology and big data, as well as the cooperation of citizens who remain highly vigilant due to their traumatic 2003 experience with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS),’ the academics wrote.

‘Why is Taiwan’s exclusion a problem, especially during the coronavirus pandemic?

‘Taiwan is an important stakeholder and a valuable partner in fighting this unprecedented crisis.

‘Taiwan’s government is donating masks to countries in need and sharing its experience using technology to investigate outbreaks.

‘The WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan from the global fight against the pandemic is a reckless dereliction of duty,’ the academics concluded.

 

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