15 Apr Bipartisan call for WHO to accept Taiwan as a member
Anthony Galloway – Sydney Morning Herald – Wednesday 15 April 2020
Australian politicians from both major parties have called on the World Health Organisation to give Taiwan membership, blasting the UN body’s performance in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
The intervention by federal MPs comes after Taiwan accused the WHO of ignoring its early warnings at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, part of what it says is a long history of sidelining it because of pressure from China.
The bipartisan push will place pressure on the Australian government to support Taiwan’s next bid for membership of the WHO. While Australia has called for Taiwan to be included in key meetings and dialogue, it does not have a position of supporting the push for membership.
The WHO has been criticised by Taiwan’s government for parroting Beijing’s lines on the global pandemic, particularly in January when it repeated Chinese claims that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Taiwan has been credited by health experts with its fast response to stopping the spread of the virus, with only 393 confirmed infections and six deaths.
Liberal senator James Paterson said Taiwan should never have been excluded from the WHO.
“Given their outstanding performance combating the coronavirus so far, their continued exclusion is shameful and dangerous,” Senator Paterson said.
Labor senator Kimberley Kitching said the WHO should be seeking to integrate “frank and fearless advice” wherever it came from.
She said a tendency to rely on information from countries “that are more authoritarian in nature” had become one of the WHO’s “ongoing weaknesses”.
The WHO has denied Taiwan membership because China claims sovereignty over it and has blocked its bids.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson said Taiwan was a member of the World Trade Organisation because countries including Australia recognised it was a separate economy from China, “and surely the same principle should apply to health systems and WHO membership”.
Liberal senator Amanda Stoker said Taiwan had proved itself responsible in a crisis, respectful of the health and economies of the nations around it and sophisticated on matters of medicine and science.
“Taiwan contributes in the WTO, and it seems to me the WHO needs all the help it can get,” Senator Stoker said.
Liberal MP Dave Sharma, a former senior diplomat, said the WHO’s attitude to Taiwan throughout the global pandemic had been “bizarre and unhelpful”.
“There should be a way to accommodate the presence of Taiwan around the table consistent with the one-China policy,” Mr Sharma said.
South Australian Liberal senator Alex Antic said Taiwan had been on the front foot.
“As the Chinese Communist Party has proven itself to be incapable of telling the truth regarding health crises such as COVID-19, the argument for countries like Taiwan taking a seat on the WHO, the seat it lost in 2017, is strengthened.”
Labor MP Julian Hill said there was a need to ensure Taiwan could directly contribute to and participate in the WHO “rather than getting hung up on formalities of membership”.
“China has used Taiwanese WHO membership as a political tool to prosecute its geopolitical arguments but we don’t need to respond in kind,” Mr Hill said.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia supported Taiwan’s “involvement” in the WHO’s work, and the body must maintain a “close working relationship with all health authorities”.
“Where statehood is a requirement for membership of organisations, we support Taiwan’s participation as a non-member, consistent with our one-China policy,” the DFAT spokesman said.
A spokesman for the WHO said membership was a matter for member states, and the WHO and Taiwan’s health experts “interacted throughout the year on vital public health and scientific issues”.
Director-General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Sydney, Fiona Fan, said the WHO exclusion posed a potential threat in the global health and disease prevention network and deprived Taiwan’s 23 million people of their basic right to health.
“Furthermore, Taiwan’s absence in the WHO has robbed the world of its benefits from understanding our experiences in disease control measures and know-hows of our extensive medical care system,” she said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Labor supported Taiwan’s “involvement in the WHO”, and in general maintained a “a bipartisan approach on issues relating to Taiwan”.