WHO sticks to position, says Taiwan membership up to member states

BRUSSELS (CNA) — The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday remained firm on the subject of Taiwan’s exclusion, reiterating that its membership is up to member states and not a decision made by the WHO itself.

“The question of Taiwanese membership in WHO is up to WHO member states, not WHO staff,” spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told CNA in an email.

“Membership in WHO and status issues are decided by Member States and the rules they set at WHO’s governing body, the World Health Assembly,” he wrote.

Jasarevic restated the WHO’s position when asked to comment on the awkward reactions of Bruce Aylward, WHO’s assistant director-general, during a video interview with Radio Television Hong Kong’s Yvonne Tong the day before.

During the interview, Aylward claimed not to have heard her question about whether the WHO would consider Taiwan’s membership. When the journalist tried to repeat the question, he asked her to “move on to another one.”

After Tong insisted on getting Aylward’s comment on the Taiwan topic, the WHO official evaded the question by hanging up.

In his email Sunday, however, Jasarevic referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan” and “Taiwanese” several times, somewhat of a departure from the terms “Taipei and environs” or “Taipei Municipality” the WHO has used in several reports this year.

He also acknowledged the low number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in Taiwan so far.

“The Taiwanese caseload is low relative to population. We continue to follow developments closely. WHO is taking lessons learned from all areas, including Taiwanese health authorities, to share best practices globally,” Jasarevic wrote.

The spokesperson also reiterated that the WHO’s Secretariat works with Taiwanese health experts and authorities, following “established procedures, to facilitate a fast and effective response and ensure connection and information flow.”

Between 2009 and 2016, Taiwan participated in the WHA as an observer under the name Chinese Taipei, at a time of improved relations with China during the then-Kuomintang administration.

Since 2017, however, the WHO has not invited Taiwan to the WHA under pressure from China, in line with Beijing’s hardline stance on cross-Taiwan Strait relations since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in May 2016.