Containment of infectious diseases is a challenge that needs to be tackled through global coordination. The current situation in which Taiwan is locked out of the international scheme to prevent the spread of the epidemic must be corrected.
The World Health Organization held its annual general meeting for the first time since the novel coronavirus began spreading. Non-member Taiwan requested to participate as an observer, but was not allowed to do so. This is the fourth year in a row that Taiwan has not participated.
More than 10 countries, including Japan and the United States, supported Taiwan’s participation, but China opposed the idea, claiming that Taiwan was “taking advantage of the plague and plotting its independence.” It is out of line to bring political issues into the fight against the pandemic.
In its handling of the coronavirus, Taiwan has managed to keep the number of infections and fatalities at a low level. The prompt implementation of entry restrictions based on the lessons learned from the 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has been successful.
The meticulous dissemination of information while placing experts in important positions and the rational mask distribution system drew much international attention. The significance of sharing Taiwan’s knowledge at the general meeting was perhaps greater than ever before. The United States insists that WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus forewent Taiwan’s participation due to pressure from China. U.S. President Donald Trump has even threatened to withdraw from WHO and stop funding the organization, urging reform.
There are many problems with Trump’s heavy-handed approach, but there are certainly growing doubts over how WHO should be managed.
The WHO Constitution emphasizes the right of every human being to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without distinction of race, religion and political belief, among other factors. The exclusion of Taiwan is also incompatible with this basic philosophy.
Tedros needs to take the criticism seriously and show leadership in the matter of Taiwan’s participation in the next annual meeting.
To solve the problem drastically, it is essential to ease tensions between China and Taiwan, but there is no sign of that happening.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has entered her second term. In her inaugural address Wednesday, she once again refused to accept the “one country, two systems” policy sought by China and called for dialogue with Beijing on an equal footing.
China has so far refused to engage in political dialogue with the Tsai administration. It will not be easy to break the deadlock.
In addition to strengthening economic ties with Southeast Asia, dubbed the “New Southbound Policy,” Tsai said she would seek to explore potential markets in other regions as well. This is aimed at changing the current situation in which China accounts for nearly 30% of Taiwan’s exports.
How can Taiwan achieve stability in the region surrounding Taiwan while reexamining its economic structure, which is overly dependent on China? Tsai is facing a difficult job at the helm.