Taiwan’s participation: A matter of life and death

| April 3, 2020 | 0 Comments
The coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and yet Taiwan is excluded from meetings, due to pressure on international organizations by China. (Photo: 玄史生)

The coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and yet Taiwan is excluded from meetings, due to pressure on international organizations by China. (Photo: 玄史生)

When crises strike, global co-operation becomes more important than ever. The most pressing issues of our time — climate change, fighting transnational crime and global conflict resolution — are all problems of international significance, and are therefore problems that require international co-operation.
Such is particularly the case with the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. This virus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Hundreds of thousands of people have been infected, and thousands have died as a result of the virus. Clearly, this is an issue in which all countries, particularly those with infected citizens and proximity to the region, should be working together to resolve.
However, due to political pressure from China, Taiwan is too often excluded from international organizations, agencies and meetings. This can have serious negative consequences; in the case of COVID-19, government authorities in Taiwan are not able to access important information and support from United Nations agencies such as the WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
In the case of ICAO, the agency unnecessarily and incorrectly referred to Taiwan as a province of China when discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on international airlines. This comes fresh on the heels of ICAO’s efforts to block individuals on Twitter who asked questions regarding the agency’s approach to Taiwan in the context of this global health crisis. Clearly, for ICAO and the WHO, multilateralism only extends as far as China will allow it, and global health takes a back seat to political considerations.
These agencies are adhering to Beijing’s “One China” policy, and therefore are providing information and support only to Beijing and not to Taipei. Putting aside the fact that this puts China’s political interests before global efforts to combat COVID-19, China continues to ignore Taiwanese officials’ requests to study the virus and refuses to be forthcoming with information. This should be unacceptable to anyone concerned about stopping the spread of this virus.

Coronaviruses are a group that have a halo, or crown-like (corona) appearance. (Photo: CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy)

Coronaviruses are a group that have a halo, or crown-like (corona) appearance. (Photo: CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy)

Clearly, this situation leads to scenarios in which Taiwan is unable to access the kinds of benefits from international co-operation that are necessary to mitigate this growing epidemic. In this case, the gaps that are created by China’s politicization of international institutions could inadvertently lead to the spread of the coronavirus and, potentially, loss of life.
Already, Taiwan has had deaths from the virus, yet authorities in Beijing are stubbornly delaying more than 900 Taawanese citizens from returning home, further complicating Taiwan’s ability to protect its citizens. And with ICAO and the WHO bowing to Beijing’s wishes, Taiwanese authorities are operating without the supports that all other countries are able to enjoy.
Luckily though, Taiwan is not alone. Many Western countries have been advocating for the inclusion of Taiwan in all manner of international forums, recognizing that international co-operation on issues such as global health, transportation safety standards, climate change, fighting transnational crimes and more is required to accomplish international goals.
Most recently, both Canada’s government and opposition parties have come out strongly in support of Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international institutions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Taiwan’s role as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA) meetings is in the best interests of the international health community.
Along the same lines, there is a bipartisan push in the United States toward standing up for Taiwan’s inclusion in the United Nations and other international organizations. Of particular note, the U.S. State Department spoke loudly and clearly in favour of Taiwan’s participation, issuing a strong statement that also addressed ICAO’s blocking of users on social media who advocated on Taiwan’s behalf. These sentiments were reinforced clearly by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who spoke up in Japan’s parliament in support of Taiwan’s observer status at the WHO, along with a variety of governments and lawmakers in Europe.
These recent events are an important part of a growing trend in the international community toward supporting Taiwan’s meaningful participation in all manner of international meetings, assemblies, organizations and agencies. Taiwan is a willing and able partner on the global stage, and we are grateful that our positive role is being recognized by like-minded partners around the world, including Canada.
Though the international community has increasingly agreed that Taiwan can help on the global stage, China remains fixated on blocking Taiwan for political reasons, even though no other nation is subjected to the same treatment. And while individual countries have stepped up, many international institutions themselves remain captured by China’s agenda. There is a risk that this situation could become further entrenched and, in the event of COVID-19 reaching worse levels or some other crisis threatening human life, international institutions will remain paralyzed by the political goals of the Chinese Communist Party.
What is needed is a comprehensive refocusing of international institutions’ objectives. Rather than serving the narrow political interests of an aggressive member state, they should be solely committed to improving global co-operation and effectiveness in their respective purviews. In the case of the WHO, this means including all relevant partners in information-sharing processes related to global health, including Taiwan. The same is true for ICAO; rather than attempting to silence those who point out its untenable policy toward Taiwan, the agency should instead focus on improving international co-operation on aviation, including co-operation with Taiwan.
Crucially, international multilateralism should be seen as an ideal, even if that might offend the delicate sensibilities of the Politburo in Beijing. We cannot continue to allow one state’s narrow political interests to threaten global co-operation and crisis prevention.
Taiwan cannot break down these barriers imposed by China over the international organizations without the continued strong support of our partners. By continuing to advocate for the well-reasoned position that Taiwan ought to be included as a partner in the international community, countries such as Canada can make a real difference. We commend Canada for showing moral leadership on the world stage, and we hope that the global community will endeavour to follow Canada’s lead.

Winston Wen-yi Chen is the representative at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada.

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Winston Wen-yi Chen is the representative at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada.

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