TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau said Friday that Chinese posing online as Taiwanese are behind an online campaign to apologize to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who on Wednesday accused Taiwan of involvement in a series of personal attacks against him.
In a WHO press briefing that day, Tedros said he has been the victim of months of racially abusive attacks that he claims emanated from Taiwan.
“This attack came from Taiwan,” Tedros said, “Taiwan, the foreign ministry also, they know the campaign. They did not disassociate themselves.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry has strongly denied the accusation and on Thursday called on Tedros to retract and apologize for the remarks.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), meanwhile, said Taiwan has always opposed “all forms of discrimination” and invited Tedros to visit Taiwan and “experience for himself” the country’s commitment to international engagement and public health.
At a press conference Friday, the investigation bureau said it had uncovered an effort by Chinese netizens to exploit the controversy by falsely identifying themselves as Taiwanese and issuing apologies to Tedros online.
After Chinese-language media reported Tedros’ accusations Thursday, social media posts began appearing promoting the idea of issuing apology messages in Taiwan’s name, the bureau said, adding that investigators had traced the accounts in question to China.
A Twitter account calling itself Radio Free Xuzhou provided widely used templates for users posting the messages, the bureau said.
The netizens’ concerted actions constitute a “grave threat to Taiwan’s international reputation,” the bureau said.
Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO has emerged as a major point of contention during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Taiwanese government arguing that the United Nations-affiliated body is putting the country at risk by denying it access to public health information.
The WHO, meanwhile, has said that Taiwanese experts are being included in its efforts and accessing its information in an unofficial capacity.
Taiwan participated in the WHO’s policy-making body — the World Health Assembly — as an observer from 2009-2016 under the designation “Chinese Taipei,” when relations between Beijing and Taipei were better under Taiwan’s previous Kuomintang ruling party, which accepts the concept that the two sides are part of one China, with each side free to interpret what that means.
Since 2017, however, Taiwan has been excluded from the body due to opposition from China, which objects to Taiwan’s current ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s rejection of that concept.