The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency overseeing international air transport, continues to exclude Taiwan from its coronavirus cooperation. With over 7,700 reported cases worldwide and likely more to follow, Taiwan’s 23.8 million population and its role as an international air traffic hub have been neglected, as the country has not been part of ICAO since 2013.

As journalists and scholars took to social media to confront the organization, ICAO responded by blocking critical voices on Twitter.

The uproar started a week ago after Jessica Drun, a non-resident fellow at Washington-based think tank Project2049, launched the following tweet:

Drun highlighted the dangers of leaving out Taiwan in the fight against the global health threat. Being excluded from the communication, Taiwan is now forced to gain vital information through inconvenient loopholes, she said.

The Montreal-based UN agency cultivates the coordination and growth of international air transport and watches over aviation safety. Furthermore, it keeps airports up to date with the latest information from any ICAO-WHO joint operations. Taiwan has been excluded from the UN General Assembly ever since after a resolution passed in 1971, which recognised Beijing over Taipei as the legitimate representative of China in the council.

ICAO’s response to the subsequent avalanche of criticism was to block the Twitter accounts involved. The agency then tweeted that they were dealing with “large amounts of spam”, further angering critics.

“Calling genuinely concerned queries ‘spam’ is purely evil and unprofessional,” William Yang, DW News’ East-Asia Correspondent, wrote on Twitter.

This is not the first time ICAO attempted to silence critics. In March 2019, the agency also garnered criticism from academics and activists on its environmental policy. They similarly labeled the critics as “fake news” and “spam” and tweeted a poem in response:

Lev Nachman, a Fulbright research fellow in Taiwan, called ICAO’s official response “disappointing but not surprising, given how they behaved online.” He told The News Lens that he is “less upset at ICAO and more thrilled at the amount of online mobilization around the issue. Their bad response only made more people aware of Taiwan’s position.”

The Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General responded to the social media fiasco that the “Twitter campaign” launched against ICAO was “communicating misinformation” and that the agency’s actions were in line with its policies for handling such situations.

The UN agency’s rigid reaction to the incident will likely draw more attention to Taiwan’s exclusion. Both the top executive and the social media manager of ICAO are Chinese nationals, a trend that’s also growing in other UN agencies, including International Telecommunication Union and the Industrial Development Organization.

Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport is among the world’s busiest airports, handling over 46 million passengers annually. The ICAO, whose priority is to coordinate international aviation standards and practices, will leave millions of travelers exposed to health threats if it keeps on pushing Taiwan out of the conversation.

The U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee also commented on the ICAO’s handling of criticism and tweeted, “The United Nations @icao plays a valuable role in ensuring aviation security. But silencing voices that oppose ICAO’s exclusion of Taiwan goes against their stated principles of fairness, inclusion and transparency."

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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