TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The World Health Organization's (WHO) head on Wednesday (May 6) dodged a question about Taiwan's inclusion in the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) and instead passed the buck to another of the organization's lawyers, who tried to absolve the leader of any responsibility for the matter.
On Monday (May 4), the WHO's principal legal officer Steven Solomon claimed it is up to the group's 194 member countries to decide on Taiwan's participation and that the WHO Secretariat has no say in the matter. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday rebutted this claim by pointing out that previous heads of the organization had invited Taiwan before, and he called on WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to do the same
During a question-and answer-session held by the WHO on Wednesday, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Tedros whether he would try to convince member states, particularly China, to allow Taiwan to attend or whether he would invite the country himself. Having apparently prepared for this question in advance to avoid a repeat of previous botched answers to questions relating to Taiwan, Tedros stayed silent as the host of the online press conference quickly introduced another lawyer employed by the organization.
In this case, the question was fielded by WHO Legal Counsel Derek Walton, who started by referring to Taiwan as "Taiwan, China" and parroting Solomon's claim that the participation of observers from the country is a "question for the 194 members of WHO" to decide. He acknowledged that the organization had put up Taiwan's proposed attendance for consideration.
Walton then claimed that whether or not "Taiwanese observers" are allowed to take to part in the WHA, "there are well-established arrangements for health experts from 'Taiwan, China' to work with WHO on technical health matters." He then tried to trumpet the few, limited exchanges that have taken place in the past, including eight expert meetings Taiwanese representatives were allowed to attend last year and "contacts in response to COVID-19 involving Taiwanese experts in key groups and networks" this year.
The attorney closed by reiterating that the decision to include Taiwan is up to member states rather than the Secretariat. After Walton completed this well-rehearsed response, Tedros sat with a blank look on his face as WHO Health Emergencies Programme Executive Director Mike Ryan and WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove busied themselves with their notes.