Taiwan at greater risks of pandemics after WHO exclusion, says foreign minister

11-May-2019 Intellasia | The Telegraph | 7:53 AM Print This Post

Taiwan has accused the World Health Organization of risking a global health emergency by barring it from attending its global health summit in Geneva at the end of May at China’s behest.

This week the WHO, a United Nations agency, declined to invite Taiwan for the third consecutive year to an annual meeting of its decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), because of objections from Beijing.

In a Telegraph interview, Joseph Wu, the Taiwanese foreign minister, warned that Taipei’s exclusion from the world health summit and from dozens of WHO technical expert meetings created loopholes in global health security networks that could quicken the spread of pandemics in Taiwan, Asia and beyond.

“It’s morally wrong,” he said. “The WHO charter states very clearly that we should have the highest attainable standards of healthcare for all mankind. And Taiwan has 23 million people. Taiwan should not be excluded. It’s very simple.”

The WHO snub fits into a growing pattern of attempts by Beijing to squeeze Taipei out of the international arena and to deny the island democracy any kind of formal diplomatic recognition by global bodies or foreign governments.

China is seeking to annex Taiwan, which operates like any other democratic nation with its own government, currency, foreign policy and military.

From 2009 to 2016 Taiwan, which boasts some of the highest medical standards in the world, enjoyed observer status at WHO gatherings, but for three years it has been blocked over the refusal of its current government to publicly endorse Beijing’s view that Taiwan and China are part of a single Chinese nation.

Wu cautioned that denying Taiwan access to the world’s highest health policy setting body could have deadly consequences.

A “pandemic or epidemic outbreak in countries nearby Taiwan, especially China and Japan, or Southeast Asia,” was one of the health ministry’s biggest fears, he said.

“We have millions of passengers coming through Taiwan every year and therefore if there is any outbreak, we need to get the most updated information as soon as possible..otherwise Taiwan can be easily affected,” he said.

“We need the WHO’s guidance in dealing with this situation, and excluding Taiwan is going to put neighbouring countries in great jeopardy as well.”

Taiwan’s fears are not baseless. The public psyche is still scarred from the terrifying outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which began in China and ran rampage in East Asia in 2003.

As the disease raced across Taiwan, some 150,000 people were quarantined and 37 patients died. But among the most bitter collective memories is the WHO’s perceived reluctance to respond to requests for help, and China’s apparent indifference towards the island’s plight.

According to Wu, who was then deputy secretary general, the WHO took six weeks to react to Taiwan’s emergency appeal and then refused to engage with health ministry officials. He alleges that deaths could have been avoided with more timely intervention.

“It’s our belief that if the WHO had provided Taiwan with necessary help at an early stage, we could have prevented the situation from happening, we could have prevented the situation from getting that bad,” he said.

Taiwan’s future ability to handle health emergencies was hampered not only by its ban from the annual WHA but by its restricted access to potentially life-saving WHO data, he said, adding that out of 165 technical expert meetings Taiwan has asked to attend since 2009, only 49 requests had been granted.

On Monday, Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwan itself was to blame for being spurned from the WHA for refusing to accept Beijing’s “one China principle” and pursuing a separatist position.

The WHO told the Telegraph that since 1972 the WHA had recognised the government of the People’s Republic of China as the “only legitimate representative of China to the WHO.”

It said “the vast majority of (178) WHO member states observe a one-China policy…under which they formally recognise the People’s Republic of China, while 16 WHO member states currently have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei and not with Beijing.

“The WHA is unlikely to agree to invite Taiwanese observers in the absence of an understanding among those concerned.”

A spokesman argued that the decision rested with member states, not with the WHO secretariat.

However, the building international support for Taipei’s inclusion suggests a growing swell of countries disagree with the WHO’s interpretation.

The UK, US, Canada and Australia are among multiple nations who, despite not formally recognising Taiwan, have lobbied for its access to the WHO.

Last month, British, French and German parliamentarians penned a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO secretary general, to warn that Taiwan’s absence “created serious gaps in the global health security system.”

They added: “With Taiwan’s advanced medical research and continued improvement in its disease prevention capabilities…its meaningful participation in the WHO is of vital importance to the global health network.”

On Wednesday, Japan also publicly voiced its support for Taipei’s bid to join the WHA. Taro Kano, the foreign minister, said Taipei’s participation was essential to prevent geographical gaps in infectious disease control.

Minister Wu said Taiwan had been buoyed by the international support and would continue to contribute to the global fight against disease despite serious setbacks.

Beijing’s insistence that Taipei be denied any recognition had also meant the UN body rejected Taipei’s attempts last year to make a $1 million donation to help combat Ebola. “They refused to take the cheque,” he claimed.

“Our determination to help the international community continues to exist. If the WHO secretariat is willing to take the cheque, and direct donations from us, we will be more than happy to,” added Wu.

Christian Lindmeier, a WHO spokesman said that the agency “continues to attach great importance to its ongoing technical work with Taiwanese health experts and health authorities, in line with the principles of universality and inclusiveness.”

He added: “In the event of an outbreak or health emergency, WHO would work with Taiwanese health officials, as necessary, to facilitate an effective response.”

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/taiwan-greater-risks-pandemics-exclusion-164312784.html

 


Category: Taiwan

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