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US Condemns WHO for Excluding Taiwan

FILE - In this image made from video, Taiwan's Health Minister Chen Shih-chung speaks at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, May 6, 2020. Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Assembly harms the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

The United States is strongly condemning Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHA began its annual meeting Monday, which took place virtually for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan said it did not receive an invitation to participate as an observer despite strong efforts and “an unprecedented level of international support.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Taiwan’s exclusion in a statement, saying WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had “every legal power and precedent” to include Taiwan, but did not, under pressure from China.

“The Director-General’s lack of independence deprives the Assembly of Taiwan's renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO’s credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

The condemnation comes at a time when the U.S. is suspending funding to the WHO and calling for the agency’s reform.

The U.S. contends WHO failed at its “core mission” of information-sharing and its “basic duty” to investigate early reports of the coronavirus. Washington has also called out what it says is China’s oversized influence on the WHO amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus travel around Taipei, Taiwan, May 18, 2020.
People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus travel around Taipei, Taiwan, May 18, 2020.

Senior U.S. officials have said the type of reforms that Washington wants the WHO to enact should include supporting Taiwan’s participation.

“The status quo is intolerable. WHO must change, and it must become far more transparent and far more accountable,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in his remarks to WHA plenary on Monday.

“It is also critical that Taiwan participates as an observer at the WHA, to bring the helpful perspective regarding their effective and exemplary response,” Azar added. “WHO barred Taiwan from participation in 2016 just a few months after Taiwan’s free and fair elections. The health of 23 million Taiwanese people should never be sacrificed to send a political message.”

Taiwan has mounted one of the world’s most successful efforts to contain the pandemic to date, despite its close proximity to the original outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu expressed “deep regret and strong dissatisfaction that the World Health Organization Secretariat has yielded to pressure from the Chinese government and continues to disregard the right to health of the 23 million people of Taiwan.”

In a joint letter to the WHO director-general, the U.S., Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand said WHO's exclusion of Taiwan has created a serious public health concern during the COVID-19 crisis.

Delegates from Taiwan had attended the World Health Assembly as non-voting observers from 2009 to 2016. China has since blocked Taiwanese representation at the event after the self-ruled democracy elected Tsai Ing-wen, a China skeptic, as Taiwan's president in 2016 and she won re-election in 2020.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, but Tsai rejects the Beijing government’s condition for dialogue that both sides belong under one flag. The two sides have been separately ruled since the 1940s.

China's reaction

In Beijing, Chinese officials are denouncing Washington’s allegation that China is hiding key information on the coronavirus and the U.S. call for China to allow international scientists access to the Wuhan Virology lab and other facilities that may have played a role in igniting the pandemic.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian fired sharp words Monday at Pompeo, who has consistently been critical of Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

“This U.S. politician has been a lying blabbermouth. It's a waste of time to comment on his fabrications,” said Zhao of the U.S. secretary of state.