Taiwan wants Australian support

29 Apr Taiwan wants Australian support

Eryk Bagshaw – The Sydney Morning Herald – Wednesday 29 April 2020

Taiwan has called on Australia to back its campaign to join the World Health Organisation, despite China’s objections, arguing it has much to teach the world about tackling coronavirus.

Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO on the direction of the Chinese Communist Party was no longer tenable after demonstrating the country had suppressed the virus.

“If it is indeed WHO’s mission to ensure the highest attainable standard of health for every human being, then WHO needs Taiwan just as Taiwan needs WHO,” Dr Chen said in a letter provided to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Australia could learn from Taiwan as it rebuilds the economy after suppressing infection rates, Taipei argues, as the island restarts live sport and open commerce while enforcing social distancing.

The Chinese Communist Party has claimed Taiwan as its territory under the “One China policy” but this is rejected by Taipei. China’s southern neighbour has had just 429 cases of coronavirus, compared to more than 6700 in Australia, and only six deaths.

Taiwan was among the first countries to quarantine travellers from Wuhan in December, restrict exports of personal protective equipment and establish an epidemic control centre to run the response to the threat. The country has had yearly rehearsals for a pandemic from China for over a decade.

Dr Chen said a health crisis anywhere readily becomes a problem everywhere. “We hope that after this pandemic abates, WHO will truly understand that infectious diseases know no borders, and that no country should be excluded, lest it become a major gap in global health security.

“…Taiwan, though not a member of WHO, cannot stand alone and must be included in the fight against such threats and challenges.”

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the de facto Taiwan Consulate General in Sydney, will push for greater direct co-ordination between Australia and Taiwan, notwithstanding Australia’s strained relationship with China.

Australian politicians from both major parties including Liberal senator James Paterson and Labor senator Kimberley Kitching have called on the World Health Organisation to give Taiwan membership, but it is not federal government policy.

“Taiwan’s experience should be a worthy reference,” said Taipei Economic and Cultural Office deputy director Jack Liu. “Australia being one of the countries that have also successfully flattened the curve and is now looking at the possibilities of reopening the economy.”

Mr Liu pointed to plans by the NRL and AFL to resume competition within months. “Our baseball league has managed to kick off the season, just without a cheering crowd,” he said.

The push is part of a global campaign to ramp up pressure on the WHO to recognise an independent Taiwan.

In a White House teleconference on Tuesday, Dr Chen thanked US Health Secretary Alex Azar for Washington’s support of Taiwan’s WHO membership.

Taiwan was an observer at the WHO for seven years from 2009 but was blocked after the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. President Tsai campaigned on a platform of sovereignty for Taiwan.

The tension between China and the US over Taiwan’s role has spilled over into a wider dispute about the funding of the World Health Organisation. The White House has accused of the WHO of underestimating the threat of the virus and pandering to Chinese interests.

China announced $46 million in funding for the UN health agency days after President Donald Trump announced in April he would freeze funding to the Geneva-based organisation. The US has been the WHO’s biggest contributor, adding $620 million a year to its budget.

Mara Pillinger, an associate in global health policy and governance at Georgetown University, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the US had a huge amount of influence at WHO.

“But if we pull back,” she said. “China is ready to step in.”

 

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