It’s time to scrap political considerations impeding Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization

  • 2022-05-18
  • Andrew H.C. Lee Representative Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

The health of the Baltic States population can be affected by public health threats originated from the other part of the world. Vivid examples of this in the past two decades include the 2003 SARS epidemic, 2009 spread of novel H1N1 influenza, Ebola Virus outbreak in 2014, and most recently COVID-19 pandemic since 2019.

The 75th World Health Assembly (WHA75) is scheduled to take place from May 22 to 28 in Geneva, against the backdrop of the unprecedented years of COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing global economic downturn. While the world is suffering from health threat and economic recession, nothing is more urgent and compelling than the global community working together against the virus and fighting for economic recovery. However, WHO continues to exert political considerations to deprive Taiwan’s 23.5 million people of their fundamental right to health by restricting its direct contact and communication with WHO and its participation in related activities, meetings and mechanisms, which has undoubtedly harmed global public health cooperation and anti-pandemic effort.

Taiwan strives for participation in WHO despite political interference

Taiwan has long received well-deserved acclaim for its accomplishments on advanced medical service and national health insurance program in the past decades, and recently attracted world attention for successfully containing the pandemic, yet we are excluded from the World Health Organization (WHO) system. In the past years we have been pursuing meaningful participation in the World Health Assembly(WHA) as an observer, and in all the meetings, mechanisms and activities under WHO.  This campaign is a just cause and moral responsibility to address the urgent issue of Taiwan’s absence from the WHO system. It is not about power games, but rather it is all about the health human rights of Taiwan’s 23.5 million citizens, who has been discriminately excluded from the global health governance body, as a result of WHO’s political consideration and biased policies against Taiwan.

Obviously China is both the origin and epicenter responsible for Taiwan’s exclusion. China is becoming aggressively provocative and dangerously comfortable with such practices as diplomatic isolation, economic coercion, military threat, rhetoric attack, and disinformation campaign. Taiwan has been a primary and convenient target of the Chinese government’s bully and intimidation.  Disregarding Taiwan people’s health safety rights, authoritarian China uses its one-sided political stance, and persists in suppressing and blocking Taiwan’s participation in annual WHA.  Clearly,  for the WHO and other international organizations, the multilateralism and inclusiveness only extends as far as China will allow it, and global public health takes a back seat to political considerations. Ironically, China, have been in a severe and prolonged lockdown across the country since April, is imposing heavy-handed political obstacles preventing Taiwan from participating in the WHA, while Taiwan has achieved a remarkable success in containing this virus without going through any lockdown restrictions. This further highlights the unfairness and absurdity of the current state of Taiwan’s absence in the world health supreme decision-making body. It is especially unfortunate that the WHO has been kidnapped by China’s  “hostage diplomacy” and “wolf warrior diplomacy”  at the cost of fundamental rights to health of the 23.5 million Taiwanese for decades. No other nation is subject to this severely discriminatory treatment.

More attention is needed to Taiwan’s absence from WHO

While the world is still grappling with persistent virus infections and sluggish economy, Taiwan’s economic growth managed to reach 3.36% and 6.28% respectively in 2020 and 2021.  In addition, in 2021 the crowd-sourced global database Numbeo ranked Taiwan as world number one in its Health Care Index for three consecutive years. The Covid-19 has not only proved that Taiwan is an integral part of the global public health network and governance system, but also a key player in international trade and global supply chains. International community must not turn a blind eye to the loophole of the world’s health body and a dangerous public health risk created by China’s politicization of international institutions and public health concerns entire population. We urge WHO and the international community to acknowledge Taiwan’s longstanding contributions and constructive input to global health security, disease control and prevention, and its critical role in global economic recovery. Only by including Taiwan in WHO can ensure that there are no gaps in global public health mechanism; only by abandoning unnecessary interference can realize the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health stipulated in the WHO Constitution, and the vision of leaving no one behind enshrined in the UN SDGs.  

Taiwan as a valuable partner in global public health cooperation

As demonstrated by the COVID-19, infectious diseases have become a global issue from which no region has been left untouched, no country is immune. Taiwan took no pride in it’s economic performance while successfully preventing the virus from taking hold.  Instead, Taiwan go the extra mile by helping other nations in the fight against COVID-19.  In 2020 alone, Taiwan provided 54 million surgical masks, 35,000 forehead thermometers, 830,000 isolation gowns and protective clothing, and other items including PCR test devices, rapid testing kits, oxygen generators, and medical gloves to more than 80 countries. Taiwan also held  80 some video-conferences with officials, hospitals, universities and think tanks from 32 countries to share its experience and expertise.  The international community increasingly understands the need, urgency, and legitimacy for inclusive global cooperation in disease prevention and control under the framework of WHO.

Taiwan is obtaining unprecedented international support and endorsement

There is a growing understanding among the like-minded and democratic countries that they need to stand up for partners like Taiwan.  During the three consecutive WHA sessions held in 2020 and 2021, Taiwan attracted international attention and obtained unprecedented international support and endorsement from international community.  In 2021, 14 diplomatic allies urged WHO to invite Taiwan to attend the WHA by submitting a proposal, sending letters, making statements, voicing their support at the WHA plenary session and the WHA General Committee, and employing other diverse means on different occasions.  Like-minded countries also expressed their support at the WHA related forums.  Australia, Canada, Japan, he United Kingdom,  the United States, and the Sovereign Order of Malta explicitly endorsed Taiwan’s bid, while the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, New Zealand asserted the need for WHO and the global public health system to be inclusive and to incorporate all parties.  Furthermore, the Group of Seven (G7) in it’s annual meeting in 2021, together with the European Union (EU), unequivocally advocated for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in WHO and WHA in the foreign ministers’  communique.  The EU and the US issued a joint press release stating that they discussed the importance of Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the work of international organizations, including WHA and the WHO forums.

These sentiments were reinforced clearly by the extensive support of parliaments across the globe backing Taiwan’s bid in diverse and innovative ways.  More than 3,000 parliamentarians from over 100 countries demonstrated their support through concrete actions, building unprecedented momentum. 1,500 strong parliamentarians across five continents send letters individually or jointly to the WHO Director-General or their own governments voicing support for Taiwan.

The Council of the World Medial Association (WMA), the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), and other regional medical associations in Europe, Latin America, and Africa also passed proposals and sent letters to the WHO Director-General or the EU in a show of staunch support from medical professionals for Taiwan’s bid.  These actions fully indicate that momentum is building within the international community for a dynamic, stronger and forward-looking re-alignment towards a more inclusive, principled and value-based form of multilateral cooperation in the area of public health and disease prevention.

It’s time to have Taiwan on board

We are extremely grateful that our valuable contribution and the importance of Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHA has been widely recognized and supported by the governments,  parliaments, local assemblies of like-minded and democratic countries, as well as prominent international professional organizations representing medical communities worldwide.  
Taiwan is an ideal and willing economic and public health partner that’s eager to join and proactively contribute to the collected effort of disease containment and global health governance under WHO. Only through accelerated collaboration and concerted effort, can the global health safety and the right to health be guaranteed.

The international community cannot afford to leave a geographical blank in the response to such a global pandemic, and needs to unite in order to effectively address public health related issues. Taiwan is well-equipped with experience and expertise from its effective in coping with the pandemic and is poised to work closely and proactively with the WHO mechanisms and global medical community.   Incorporating Taiwan into the WHO forums and technical committees would not only benefit it’s 23.5 million citizens, it would also benefit the citizens of the Baltic States and of the world.

Taiwan is capable of offering valuable contributions and lessons learned from its approach to the pandemic and other public health challenges. Taiwan is a reliable partner, a dynamic democracy, and a force for good, its exclusion from WHO would only imperil, not advance, our shared global health objectives.  However, Taiwan cannot breakdown these political barriers and ideological barricades imposed by China over WHO and the international community without the continued support of like-minded and democratic partners. There is no justification for denying Taiwan’s WHO participation. The WHO would not be effective, inclusive, or legitimate if it excluded one of the most medically advanced,  democratically vibrant, and economically prosperous players in the sphere of public health and medical service. It’s time to scrap political consideration and discriminatory treatment to clear the way for Taiwan’s participation in WHA as an observer, and in all WHO health mechanisms, programs and activities.  It’s time to have Taiwan on board.