Taiwan protests WHO's reference to Taiwan as part of China

Taiwan's foreign ministry asks UN health agency to refrain from kowtowing to Beijing

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WHO Legal Counsel Derek Walton. (Screenshot from WHO's streaming video)

WHO Legal Counsel Derek Walton. (Screenshot from WHO's streaming video)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On Thursday (May 7), Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) protested against the World Health Organization’s labeling of the island nation as part of Chinese territory.

The UN health agency’s annual assembly will be held virtually within two weeks, and much attention has been focused on Taiwan’s participation in addition to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Taiwan had been invited to the World Health Assembly (WHA) from 2009 to 2016 as an observer, but the island nation’s access has been blocked in recent years due to Beijing's growing pressure on international organizations to exclude Taiwan.

Answering a question at a press briefing Wednesday (May 7) concerning Taiwan’s invitation to the upcoming WHA on behalf of Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Derek Walton, a legal counsel for the WHO, said Taiwan’s participation is a decision to be made by the agency’s member states.

In his response, which included mostly officials statements that other WHO staff had made before, Walton specifically referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan, China,” while stressing that the WHO Secretariat is not entitled to decide Taiwan’s participation.

MOFA later issued a strong protestation over the WHO official’s mislabeling of Taiwan, saying that the international organization should not cave in to Beijing’s pressure and undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty.

MOFA argued that the WHO chief has the discretionary power to invite observers to the WHA. Taiwan had taken part in the WHO before 2016 under the name “Chinese Taipei,” which is used by the country in a number of international organizations and in the Olympic Games.

MOFA stressed that Taiwan is not a part of China and Beijing cannot represent the Taiwanese. At a press briefing on Wednesday, Hua Chunying (華春瑩), spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed that “The Chinese central government has made proper arrangements with regard to the Taiwan area’s participation in global health affairs” based on its “one China” principle.

Since the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has escalated into a global crisis, the UN health agency has come under fire for its response — one widely seen as delayed and inadequate. The WHO director-general and senior officials have also been criticized for praising China’s coronavirus response while ignoring the communist party’s alleged cover-up of the severity of the virus outbreak, thus leading to a global pandemic that has claimed more than 260,000 lives worldwide.