Asia Minute: Despite COVID-19 Success, Taiwan Remains Outside the World Health Organization

May 19, 2020

The World Health Organization has been meeting for the last two days by video conference. It’s a shortened annual meeting, and of course it’s all about COVID-19.  That means discussion has been postponed on at least one controversial issue in the Asia Pacific.

The World Health Organization’s annual assembly usually stretches over three weeks – this one is two days about international cooperation on testing, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

The WHO has agreed to an independent evaluation of its handling of the pandemic — especially its initial response and early dealings with China during the first days and weeks of the outbreak in Wuhan. But it will not be dealing with a long-running question about the participation of Taiwan.

The timing is noteworthy because Taiwan has had success in dealing with COVID-19, and there may be lessons others can learn from its experience. But Taiwan’s government is not part of these international discussions – China has blocked it.

The Tapei government wants to be restored to observer status at the WHO – a position it held from 2009 to 2016. That ended with the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who does not accept the view of the Beijing government that Taiwan is part of mainland China, and this has been a bubbling diplomatic issue ever since.

The WHO has now agreed to postpone the next round of discussions on this topic until later this year.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s latest numbers: fewer than 500 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths in a population of 23.6 million.