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Taiwan. China. WHO.

Updated: May 18, 2020

Taiwan’s response to COVID-19

During an online interview with Doctor Bruce Aylward, the assistant Director General of the World Health Organization, there were multiple attempts made by him to avoid questions regarding Taiwan that were raised by the news agency ‘Radio Television Hong Kong.’ This ultimately concluded in him hanging up on the interviewer while being further questioned regarding Taiwan.

With the countries around the world resorting to draconian measures to deal with the outbreak of COVID-19, Taiwan is one of the very few countries that have stemmed out the problem successfully without implementing any severe punishments or legislative policy. Considering the high volume of travel between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China it wouldn’t be far-fetched for people to assume that there would be a widespread outburst of COVID-19 in Taiwan, similar to what happened during the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, looking at the number of infections and the extremely low mortality rate in the country it is safe to say that they have successfully dealt with the situation and should be given more credit for their response to the global pandemic.

Taiwan had implemented extremely effective measures that kept the infection count low and simultaneously prevented the economy from screeching to a halt. Through techniques of staff reduction at hospitals to reduce the secondary contraction of the infection and by securing ready supply of beds to maintain a high bed-per capita ratio, the country had an effective plan to deal with the situation at hand if the rate of infections were to increase exponentially. Part of the reason why Taiwan had exceptional preparation was due to the SARS outbreak in the country in 2003, which resulted in the death of 76 people. Fearing the risk of another epidemic outbreak they had installed screening monitors at the airports that led any person with suspected health symptoms to a quarantine facility. Adding to this was the affinity of Taiwanese nationals towards health insurance policies leading to a large number of citizens having medical policies and consequently allowing for more testing. This pattern of testing was observed in South Korea as well and this method of extensive continuous testing had limited the number of infections to under 11,000 in South Korea as compared to 700,000 cases in the United States, the shocking fact is that both these countries received their first infection on the same day.

The Chinese Bloc at the WHO

Naturally, as morality would dictate, the WHO being an unbiased body would celebrate the successes of Taiwan and recommend other countries to follow through with the same containment measures. However, the WHO failed to recognise the efforts that have been made by Taiwan so far.

Doctor Tedros Adhanom is the current President of the World Health Organization, having been elected in the year 2017 against Doctor David Nabarro of the United Kingdom and Doctor Sania Nishtar of Pakistan. There were protests against his election led by the delegation of the United States that had accused him of covering up a Cholera outbreak in the country of Ethiopia when he served as the Health Minister between 2005 and 2012. He is the first African President of the World Health Organization. The election campaign of Doctor Tedros was openly endorsed by the Chinese Government and it was with the help of the China led bloc that Doctor Tedros won the popular vote and was elected as the Director-General of the World Health Organization.

Under one of the projects of the Silk Road Initiative, the Seychelles Afei Holding Company along with the Ethiopian government constructed a $30 million worth 600 bed hospital in 2017. Further emphasising the Chinese government have a host of other investments made by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which are estimated to be around 150 million dollars each year. Chinese parties are also involved in the donation of supplies and the staff that work at these facilities.

Taking into consideration the close linking between China, Doctor Tedros and Chinese investment in Africa, there is a potential bias of the World Health Organization towards the policies of the People’s Republic of China. Is the public acceptance of the Chinese model regarding the flattening of the COVID-19 curve by the World Health Organization another obvious instance highlighting the close affiliation between the two parties? If so, the entire endorsement of the Chinese model poses a major threat to the international forum - the threat of the lack of transparency and accountability of the Chinese Media regarding the extent of the spread of COVID19.

Taiwan and International Organizations

Taiwan has lacked the recognition and the status of a country for several years from several different countries. Following the passing of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2578 (1971), member rights had been withdrawn as a majority of the international forum recognized the Chinese government as the one seated in Beijing and not the one in Taipei. Since the late 1980s, Taiwan has tried to revive its presence in the global community and has succeeded in doing so as it received the observer status at the United Nations General Assembly.

Taiwan was expelled from the World Health Organization in the year 1972 under the World Health Assembly Resolution 25.1.Since the late 1990s Taiwan has attempted to regain its status in the global community by setting up bids to become a part of the World Health Organization. These attempts were seen in the years 1997, 2004 and 2007 and all of these attempts resulted in failures mainly due to the Chinese opposition.

The outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was another type of coronavirus that affected the South East Asian countries in the year 2003. The worst affected nations during this outbreak were China, Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively. At the time of the outbreak Taiwan was not a member of the World Health Organization and did not receive any relief from the international organization. The absence of support from the WHO to Taiwan was again due to the lack of consent from Beijing. Observers from the WHO only visited the island to assess the situation after they had received consent from the People’s Republic of China. The major point of concern was the fact that 23.8 million people of Taiwan were unfairly discounted from the basic support of health from the international forum. Countries like the United States and Japan have pushed for the observer status of Taiwan in the WHA, simultaneously the European Union and Canada pushes for meaningful representation of these people.

In the year 2005 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the World Health Organization and the Government of China in secret, the objective of the document was later leaked. This document prevented the WHO from taking actions in Taiwan until it got the approval of the Health ministry of China unless there exists an acute emergency situation in the country. In a later document that was leaked in 2011, there was support from the United States of America in the signing of this Memorandum of Understanding. Between 2008 and 2016 for eight consecutive years, Taiwan was granted the observer status under the name of ‘Chinese Taipei’ due to the presence of the pro-China Ma government. Under the leadership of Tsai ing-Wen whose policies are against those of the Chinese, the country of Taiwan has yet again been denied its observer status at the World Health Organization.

The International Health Regulation (IHR) is a document that gives updates to countries regarding various diseases. Taiwan was invited to participate in the IHR in the year 2009, however in May of 2011, there was a document that was leaked that set a framework as to how Taiwan was meant to be treated in the IHR. This framework was dictated by the ‘Procedures Concerning an arrangement to facilitate Implementation of the International Health Regulation with Respect to the Taiwan Province of China’ of the IHR (2005). The basic gist of this document allowed China to dictate the ground rules as to how the World Health Organisation is meant to treat Taiwan in the International Health Regulation forum as well as the World Health Organization. The Memorandum of Understanding was circulated under the leadership of Margaret Chan who was the Director-General of the WHO from China’s Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong) and therefore the idea of collusion with the Chinese Government may not be entirely implausible.

Taiwan in its short term goals wishes to be a ‘meaningful and dignified’ participant at the World Health Organization. In their aim the word ‘dignified’ holds a lot of weight. The people of the country don’t wish their identity to be diminished to a mere province of China but to be recognized as a sovereign state that is capable of making its own decisions. The World Health Organization has referred to the country of Taiwan as ‘Chinese Taipei’ which the Taiwanese people fairly believe is a disrespectful gesture.


The neglection of Taiwan from the global community poses a threat that is bigger than a diplomatic one. The rejection of Taiwan from the World Health Organization ignores the health and the well-being of over 23 million people. The threat is humanitarian. Is it morally right for the World Health Organization to disregard its basic principles in treating humans fairly or is it honourable for them to endorse an affiliation that is far less valuable than human life in itself?

The Global Community has observed these developments and some countries have reacted in a rather drastic manner. For example the United States of America under the leadership of President Donald Trump has completely suspended the funding of the World Health Organization which is roughly 400 million dollars a year. Nonetheless, the paradox is, the World Health Organisation is the only organisation that exists on a global scale involving the majority of the countries. It possesses the capability of solving the crisis, even if the organisation’s response is not ideal. The World Health Organization with its resources is indispensable in the fight against COVID-19. The question is whether this feeling of indispensability is giving them the illusion of invincibility?

Author : Aviral Bhardwaj

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