OPINION: Taiwan’s Exclusion from the WHA is a Detriment to Global Health

OPINION: Taiwan’s Exclusion from the WHA is a Detriment to Global Health
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG
Why you need to know

China's efforts to ensure Taiwan is excluded from the WHA undermine the global democratic order.

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Once again, Taiwan has been barred from the World Health Assembly (WHA); the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) that begins its annual meeting today in Geneva.

Deriving from the PRC's One-China Principle, under which Beijing asserts Taiwan is part of China and that the government in Taipei is illegitimate, the WHO turned down Taiwan’s application to participate as an observer at the WHA, along with the petitions for Taiwan to attend submitted by several member states.

On May 15, the WHA also refused to authorize Taiwanese media to cover the assemblies proceedings; a move Reporters Without Borders considered as an inherent contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By pressing for Taiwan’s exclusion from international issues such as global health, an issue on which Taiwan has a strong track record, China is denying the WHO and the global community the opportunity to benefit from Taiwan's medical expertise.

As the population rapidly ages in developed countries, challenges in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases are becoming ever more imminent. Taiwan, with its outstanding record of treating cardiovascular disease and in the diagnosis of hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension, can offer significant assistance to the global health effort. Taiwan is also capable of providing insights into the creation of a comprehensive chronic disease administration system that will track, monitor and provide healthcare to high-risk groups.

Furthermore, Taiwan may also lend its assistance on technological transfers and support as one of the leading countries in microsurgery, craniofacial surgery, and organ transplants. Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare runs a global surgery task force providing foreign surgeons the training necessary to cooperate with medical NGOs from Taiwan. If Taiwan were able to participate, these projects that facilitate the transfer and sharing of technological competence could enhance the WHA's Global Surgery Initiative and the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery.

Finally, the lack of medical infrastructure and technical expertise in developing countries could impede their long-term development. Because Taiwan shares climatic similarities with some of these countries, Taiwan is able to share valuable knowledge and support on disease prevention and for the improvement of public health.

All should recognize that the mission of the WHO is “to build a better, healthier future for people all over the world,” and its objective, to reach “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”

In its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations also envisions “a world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to health care and social protection.” By excluding Taiwan from participating in the world health community, global organizational resolve and determination to fulfill the aforementioned statements will continue to be in question, given that Taiwan’s experience and knowledge in the field cannot be meaningfully shared.

China’s continued efforts in diminishing Taiwan’s international presence should not be viewed in isolation. When China's President Xi Jinping asserted his vision of China assuming a responsible global role at the 2017 World Economic Forum; some China watchers, then shocked by President Trump’s isolationist speech, were hoping that greater role would embracie a rules-based international order to observe free trade.

The steps taken by China to exclude Taiwan from the WHA since the inauguration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) have since proven these expectations to be naive. As many observers have pointed out, China has been flexing its commercial clout overseas in order to mold the international system to better suit its interests.

China’s claim to “territorial integrity” seen in the case of the WHA, is only one among a series of combative maneuvers to diminish the fact Taiwan is a self-governed, independent democracy that is actively involved in global economic and political affairs.

China’s claim to “territorial integrity” seen in the case of the WHA, is only one among a series of combative maneuvers to diminish the fact Taiwan is a self-governed, independent democracy that is actively involved in global economic and political affairs.

Aside from procedural obstruction in international organizations, China also seeks to meddle with commercial activities overseas by pressuring international companies to apologize and remove any indication of Taiwan not being part of China. The victims of the latest waves of these politically charged criticisms include Delta Air Lines, Marriott, GAP, ZARA, and also GARMIN.

China is also accumulating judicial precedents through the prosecution and imprisonment of Taiwanese suspects arrested in foreign territories. Countries such as Spain, Kenya, Vietnam, and the Philippines each have records of deporting Taiwanese suspects to China under pressure in recent years. These instances reveal China’s dismissal of the jurisdictional and commercial sovereignty of other countries.

The dispute in the WHA is but one of the facets of China’s extensive endeavors to shape a set of favorable conditions that cater to its economic, political and ideological stances. The purpose of establishing international organizations like the WHO is to form a cooperative mechanism under which technical and professional exchanges that will benefit the well-being of all humans is not subverted by the strife and divisions of international politics. Yet these actions undertaken by China undermine the democratic, open and free international order that we enjoy today.

It is of great importance to us that the WHA and the Secretariat of the WHO live up to their humanitarian vision and honor the opinions that have been advocating for Taiwan’s participation as an observer. Advocates for Taiwan’s inclusion include: the EU, Canada, Japan, the U.S., and numerous medical NGOs worldwide.

By giving way to Chinese demands, not only is public health put at risk, the organization is also subverting its own mission. We sincerely look forward to Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the WHA this year. The health of the world’s citizens should not be sacrificed on the whim of a single state’s political ambitions.

Lee Bo-yi (李柏毅), Chang Ting-yu (張庭瑜) and Wu Yeh-min (吳也民) from New Power Party Thinktank contributed to this article.

Read Next: WHO Bows to China Pressure, Contravenes Human Rights in Refusing Taiwan Media

Editor: David Green

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