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Japan steers clear of directly criticizing China at WHO Assembly

  • May 20, 2020
  • , Yomiuri , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

By Yuta Abe


At the WHO’s annual general meeting, the Japanese government took a concerted line with the U.S. in supporting Taiwan’s participation in the confab as an observer and demanding an independent probe into the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. At the same time, Japan avoided directly criticizing China.


At the WHO meeting, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato called for learning from the accomplishments of Taiwan, which kept the coronavirus under control. “No geographic gap should be created by excluding specific regions. Not allowing a gap will help us reach the goal of preventing the worldwide spread of infection,” he said. The term “geographical gap” is a euphemism for Taiwan’s nonparticipation in the WHO.


Kato also called for a “fair, independent, and comprehensive verification” of the global health watchdog’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the origin of the virus, and the routes of infection. In this way, he called for an investigation to take place in China.


This wording seems to go a step further than before.


In actuality, the Japanese government does not want to anger China as it is rescheduling with the Chinese Xi Jinping’s Japan visit, which was postponed due to the coronavirus.


“It will be difficult to conduct an effective examination if we upset the Chinese,” commented a senior foreign ministry official. By not mentioning China by name, Japan distinguished itself from the United States and other nations critical of China. This hints of a desire to show consideration to China as bilateral relations improve. Japan plans to join hands with European nations and others to call on China to agree to an investigation at an early date.


At the May 13 meeting of the Lower House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in reference to Taiwan’s possible participation as an observer, “Frankly speaking, China poses a problem.” The Chinese government used diplomatic channels to file a protest to Japan over the comment and held Japan’s response in check.


Commenting on Japan’s position at the assembly, a senior MOFA official said, “We wanted to do what we could not to make it into a political issue.”

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