With international backing, Taiwan makes another bid for World Health Assembly

Foreign Affairs

Under pressure from Beijing, the World Health Organization has denied Taiwan even observer status at every World Health Assembly since 2017.

The 69th World Health Assembly, in 2016, the last year Taiwan was allowed to observe the annual meeting.

Taiwan is again calling on the international community for support in its bid to participate in the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), which will convene in Geneva later this month, the first time in two years that the meeting will be held offline.

On Wednesday, representatives from 20 national medical organizations alongside several legislators held a press conference calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to allow Taiwan to participate, emphasizing its successful handling of COVID-19 and donations of masks and PPE to countries around the world.

The WHA is the decision-making body of the WHO. Taiwan participated as an observer from 2007 to 2016, but since 2017 has been denied access due to pressure from Beijing. Calls from within and outside Taiwan to grant the self-ruled island access have grown over the past several years, particularly given Taiwan’s positive record in controlling the spread of the COVID-19.

During Wednesday’s conference, some, like Democratic Progressive Party legislator Wáng Dìng-yǔ 王定宇, criticized the UN for excluding Taiwan despite its promise to “leave no one behind.”

“The difficulties we face come from political obstruction and only political obstruction,” Wang said. “Taiwan is the only missing piece, 23 million people are the only missing piece. This is immoral, this is unfair, this is dangerous for public health and epidemic prevention.”

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮 Wú Zhāoxiè) and Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung (陳時中 Chén Shízhōng) criticized the WHO’s “indifference” last year after it folded to Chinese pressure and again denied Taiwan entry to the WHA, despite an unprecedented show of joint support from G7 countries.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would help Taiwan regain observer status at the assembly, weeks after the World Medical Association sent a letter to the WHO in support of Taiwan’s participation.

China has already shown its dissatisfaction. In March, its ambassador to the UN, Chén Xù 陈旭, wrote on Twitter: “Political tricks of ‘Taiwan’s contribution to or role in global health and pandemic response’ will, by no means, justify its representation in int’l orgs.”