US bill would withhold funding from WHO until Taiwan granted membership

Act would also attach continued funds to organization's election of new leadership

Sen. Rick Scott (right) speaks to reporters following closed-door meeting where Republican Conference held leadership election.

Sen. Rick Scott (right) speaks to reporters following closed-door meeting where Republican Conference held leadership election. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As the WHO released a report detailing the results of its team's trip to Wuhan to investigate the origins of COVID-19, two U.S. lawmakers introduced an act that would withhold government funding from the global body until it replaces its leaders and grants Taiwan full membership status.

On Tuesday (Feb. 9, EST), Senators Josh Hawley and Rick Scott introduced the World Health Organization (WHO) Accountability Act. Scott's office released a statement saying the legislation, the text of which has yet to be released, would "hold the WHO responsible for its role in helping Communist China cover up information regarding the threat of the coronavirus."

In a tweet, the Florida legislator accused the WHO of being a "puppet" for Beijing and "complicit in Communist China's effort to isolate Taiwan." He stressed that American taxpayers should not be contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the upkeep of the organization unless it undergoes serious reforms.

The act "withholds U.S. taxpayer dollars from the WHO until the organization replaces its leadership, as of January 1, 2020, and accepts Taiwan as a member state," according to the statement. It would also place a cap on total U.S. funding equal to the amount pledged by the top contributor in a given year — which would be China.

The American government has been the WHO's top source of funding by far, accounting for US$237 million, or 22 percent, of member state assessed contributions from 2018-2019. China contributed some US$75 million in the same period.

After many years of seeing its efforts to participate in the WHO rebuffed by China, Taiwan achieved observer status at the organization's annual World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2009 as a result of the cross-strait rapprochement ushered in by the China-friendly administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). This came to an end in 2016 with the election of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party, with China cutting off ties over her refusal to acknowledge the so-called 1992 Consensus and "one-China principle."

Taiwan has since been making regular appeals to the global health body to be readmitted as an observer. A U.S.-backed effort to include it in last year's WHA failed to garner enough support despite the plaudits the island nation earned for its containment of COVID, leading its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to condemn China as well as the WHO for "continuing to neglect the health and human rights of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people.”

The WHO has been widely criticized for failing to act decisively in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan. Even as the coronavirus was found to have spread to 23 other countries early last year, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lauded Chinese officials' containment efforts during a trip to Beijing and famously discouraged emergency travel restrictions, saying they would “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”

The Trump administration announced it was leaving the WHO last summer, citing a botched pandemic response and what it viewed as China's outsized influence.

President Joe Biden has halted the U.S.' withdrawal, saying the country's interests are better served when it remains fully engaged in international institutions. State Department Spokesman Ned Price stated Tuesday that the country should be in "a position to push any necessary needed reforms," adding, "To be clear, there are necessary and needed reforms."

Updated : 2021-04-19 07:37 GMT+08:00