Taiwan accuses WHO of being ‘irresponsible’ on Taiwan issue

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung / Photo courtesy of the CECC

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s health minister on Tuesday accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of being “irresponsible” in the face of requests from some of its members and Taipei to allow Taiwan to attend this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA).

“Incomplete rules should be rectified” no matter how many years they have been in place, said Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who also heads the Central Epidemic Command Center, at the center’s daily press briefing on COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Taiwan.

Chen was responding to remarks by Steven Solomon, the WHO’s principal legal officer, at a press event in Geneva Monday regarding Taiwan’s participation at the WHA, the organization’s top decision-making body.

Reiterating the WHO’s stance that its policies and guidelines are in line with those of the United Nations, Solomon said the U.N. and WHO decided 49 years ago that there is only one legitimate representative of China within the U.N. and that is the People’s Republic of China.

“That decision still stands,” he said.

As a result, Solomon said the WHO secretariat has no authority to make a decision on Taiwan’s possible participation at this year’s WHA which begins in two weeks, as it has to be made by all 194 member states.

Chen characterized the comments as “a bureaucratic response,” and said the rules should be different when the global situation changes and under different healthcare and human rights scenarios.

“As long as they (the WHO rules) are incomplete, they should be changed” regardless of how long — two, seven or 49 years — they have been in place, Chen said.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said the WHO director-general has the authority to decide who to invite as an observer to the WHA, according to the organization’s rules of procedure and past precedent.

For years Taiwan has sought wider participation in WHO meetings and the annual WHA, but has been prevented from doing so by pressure from Beijing.

This year, the call has been louder because many have argued Taiwan should not be excluded from the WHO as the new coronavirus spreads around the world.

The WHA is scheduled to hold its 73rd session from May 18-19, which will be conducted virtually due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a WHO provisional agenda shows.

From 2009-2016, Taiwan participated in the WHA as an observer under the name Chinese Taipei amid better relations with China under the then-Kuomintang administration.

However, China has persuaded the WHO not to invite Taiwan in line with Beijing’s hardline stance on cross-strait relations since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in May 2016.