WHO members delay decision on Taiwan at key meeting

World Health Organization member states on Monday, May 19, delayed a controversial decision on granting Taiwan observer status at a key annual assembly focussed on fighting the new coronavirus, despite US demands.

The row on Taiwan had threatened to overshadow the global health body's annual policy meeting, which was slashed from the normal 3 weeks down to two days due to the COVID-19 crisis.

At the WHO's first-ever virtual World Health Assembly (WHA), countries unanimously agreed to postpone the discussion until later in the year.

Beijing is vehemently opposed to Taiwanese participation, calling the island part of its territory.

Taiwan itself said its allies wanted to focus the available time in the virtual gathering on the fight against COVID-19, so the debate on its exclusion was being postponed.

The issue will be taken up when the assembly session resumes later in the year, when it is hoped members can gather in person and discuss health issues beyond the coronavirus crisis.

Pompeo: Beijing 'spiteful'

Monday's decision immediately drew fire from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – with Beijing and Washington locked in a diplomatic spat over the virus, first recorded in mainland China late last year.

"The United States condemns Taiwan's exclusion," said Pompeo.

He said international institutions should not "play politics while lives are at stake," adding that this "further damages the WHO's credibility and effectiveness," he said.

Beijing's "spiteful action to silence Taiwan exposes the emptiness of its claims to want transparency and international cooperation to fight the pandemic," Pompeo added.

Taiwan has had remarkable success in combatting the pandemic with only 7 deaths and some 400 infections.

But it is frozen out of international bodies by Beijing which regards the self-ruled democratic island of 23 million people as its own territory and has vowed to take it by force if necessary.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar, in Washington's address to the WHA, said it was "critical" that Taiwan be allowed to participate as an observer.

The health of Taiwan's people "should never be sacrificed to send a political message," he said.

No objections

Nearly 15 states, including Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, wanted the question of Taiwan's participation to be added to the WHA agenda.

But on Monday, Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu said "countries want to use the limited time available to concentrate on ways of containing the pandemic."

"We have accepted the suggestion from our allies and like-minded nations to wait until the resumed session before further promoting our bid," Wu said.

Taiwan – officially the Republic of China – was a founding member of the WHO when the global health body was created in 1948.

But it was expelled in 1972 a year after losing the "China" seat at the United Nations to the People's Republic of China.

Between 2009 and 2016 Beijing allowed Taiwan to attend the WHA as an observer under the name "Chinese Taipei."

But Beijing has closed the doors since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen who views the island as a de facto independent nation and does not subscribe to Beijing's idea that it belongs to a "one China." – Rappler.com