TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s exclusion from World Health Organization meetings on the coronavirus outbreak has united the island’s political parties, who normally agree on little, especially to do with China.
Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to the objection of China, which considers it a Chinese province with no right to participate in international organizations as a separate entity.
Taiwan was not allowed to participate in an emergency WHO meeting on Wednesday about the new virus, which has killed at least 25 people since originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan last month.
Taiwan has reported three cases, two of which it only confirmed on Friday – a Chinese tourist and a Taiwanese businessman who had returned to the island from China.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, re-elected by a landslide this month on a platform of standing up to China, this week called on the WHO to set aside political considerations and grant it full access to virus updates.
“Taiwan is at the forefront of global epidemic prevention. There needs to be room at the WHO for Taiwan’s participation,” she told reporters.
Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which favors close ties with China, expressed its anger saying that epidemic prevention should know no boundaries.
“Please could the WHO cast aside political considerations. If Taiwan is alone in being left out of epidemic prevention work it will leave a gap, and is not beneficial to promoting epidemic prevention work around the world,” it said in a statement.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, a doctor by training who is no friend of either Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party nor the Kuomintang, added his voice of disapproval.
“In recent years, Taiwan has been placed outside the world’s epidemic prevention system, and has no way of getting first hand information. This is a problem,” said Ko, whose Taiwan People’s Party won its first parliamentary seats this month.
China says such concerns are nonsense. China’s foreign ministry said this week nobody cares more about Taiwan’s people than China’s central government.
Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control also say they have smooth channels with China, though it has also complained about its inability to get first hand information from the WHO.
Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO emergencies programme, told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday they work closely with technical partners in what he termed “China, Taiwan”.
“And I believe the authorities in Taiwan are working very closely with China in the mainland and I believe there have been joint missions and joint approaches to the response,” he said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Angus MacSwan)