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WHO fury: Bitter row with Taiwan over China sovereignty claim exposed

3 min read

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Last month, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, health officials came together in a virtual session at the World Health Assembly. Delegates discussed how the world should tackle the crisis, exchanging domestic-level advice and data from their own struggles.

Yet, missing from that digital table was Taiwan.

Currently one of the world’s best placed authorities to talk on the virus, Taiwan has been the most successful at protecting its people from the disease.

The nation has been applauded internationally for quickly and effectively stemming the spread of the virus, and insists it should be given a platform to share its experiences with the world.

The problem rests with the issue of autonomy – that Taiwan views itself as an independent state is not a wholly universal truth.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has blocked its attendance at the WHO since 2016.

It has transpired that Taiwan is not alone in its struggle.

The US, EU, Japan and several other nations backed Taiwan’s bid to attend the meeting on May 18.

No invitation was made, however, with the WHO delaying its decision on Taiwan attaining observer status.

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The lack of support for Taiwan from the WHO has resulted in the country using its momentary spotlight to bring its anti-China rhetoric to the centre stage.

In March, this all exploded when Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK aired an interview with Bruce Aylward, the WHO assistant director-general, who spoke to journalist Yvonne Tong on a video call.

During the video, Ms Tong asked if the WHO would reconsider letting Taiwan join the organisation.

A long silence ensues, with Mr Aylward then saying he could not hear her and asking to move on to another question.

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But, Ms Tong pressed him on the topic again, asking whether he could comment on Taiwan’s response to the virus.

At this point Mr Aylward appeared to hang up on her.

She called him again and asked if he could comment on China, to which he replied: “Well, we’ve already talked about China.”

It is just one event in a string of push backs against China that Taiwan has utilised during the coronavirus pandemic.

It has, for example, pushed itself as a world democratic power house in the shadow of communist China.

Last month, Taiwanese media relished photos of prominent White House officials wearing masks imprinted with tiny block lettering ‘Made in Taiwan’.

A further political statement came in March when, amid the impending PPE shortage, Taiwan pledged to donate 100,000 face masks a week through FEMA.

Disruptions in Hong Kong have furthered Taiwan and its people’s realisation that Beijing has no plan to recoil its assertiveness.

This reaction was widely interpreted through the country’s reelection of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

She captured the largest vote total in the island’s history – a clear sign for many of a willingness by the people to pursue independence.

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