After the World Health Organization failed to send an invite to Taiwan to attend the 71st World Health Assembly, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) affirmed the United States’ firm support for Taiwan to participate in the WHA as an observer.
The WHA is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), and is attended by delegates from all member-states. This year’s meeting will be held May 21 to 26 in Geneva, Switzerland.
AIT posted in Chinese and English on its Facebook page in support of Taiwan’s participation in the WHA. The post said that we cannot have prosperity if we are not healthy. The Ebola virus for example, can quickly spread from villages to world capitals within 36 hours, and stopping such an epidemic is a national security priority. It further stated that Taiwan is committed to global health security, and has made important contributions to public health and development.
The English version of the post reads:
We cannot have prosperity if we’re not healthy. Infectious diseases like Ebola can spread from villages to world capitals in 36 hours. Stopping them early is a national security priority.
That’s why the United States and Taiwan have jointly hosted five regional public health workshops since 2015. These workshops have improved our collective ability to stop the spread of infectious diseases.
The United States strongly supports Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the World Health Assembly.
Taiwan is committed to global health security and has made important contributions to public health and development, and the United States believes that Taiwan should not be excluded from these critical discussions.
Taiwan was invited to attend the WHA as an observer from 2009, the year after pro-China KMT Party presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou took office as President. However, after Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen took office in May 2016, Taiwan was not invited to the 2017 World Health Assembly. Time magazine reported that Taiwan’s exclusion could have “deadly consequences.”
The invitation or lack of, is seen to be part of a carrot and stick approach employed by Beijing, as China uses its growing political, military, and economic clout to influence international organizations and corporations to isolate the democratically-ruled Taiwan. When a pro-Chinese unification party is elected, concessions are given: when the opposition is elected, the noose is tightened.
Supporters of Taiwan’s participation in WHA, including the USA, and the European Union, argue that Taiwan’s exclusion creates serious gaps in the global health security system and threatens people’s right to health.
Taiwan Representative to the Philippines Gary Song Huann Lin, while seeking support from the government of the Philippines for Taiwan’s attendance at this year’s WHA meeting, said in a statement in April 2018:
The enjoyment of good health is one of the universal human rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. It is morally wrong for any country or organization to deprive the 23 million Taiwanese people of their fundamental health rights to participate in 2018 WHA and to share international health information as well as the prevention of disease and epidemics.
But Beijing’s influence in the WHO seems to have prevailed, despite the United States Congress passing a bill in January this year directing the US Secretary of State to assist Taiwan in participating in the WHA.
The European Union also voiced support of Taiwan’s participation, it was reported by Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA), yesterday, May 8.
“The European Union, generally speaking, supports practical solutions regarding Taiwan’s participation in international frameworks,” spokesperson for the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Maja Kocijancic said when asked by CNA about Taiwan’s exclusion from this year’s WHA annual meeting.
Kocijancic’s comments came after a statement issued by the EU on May 1 supporting Taiwan’s participation in the WHA meeting and saying it was in the interest of the organization’s 28 members and the world, according to CNA.
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