Global health crisis & politics: Taiwan should be included in WHO

By: Juilin Lu

Over the past few decades, there has been a conflict between mainland China and Taiwan over representation in international organizations. After replacing Taiwan in the United Nations Security Council in 1971, the People’s Republic of China  began to take over Taiwan’s place in other international organizations as well. When current President Tsai Ing-wen took office, Taiwan was forced out of the World Health Organization (WHO). This was a result of China’s strong belief in the “One China Principle”, which demands that mainland China is the only legitimate representation of China in the international realm. 

Without a presence in WHO, Taiwan has a limited ability to participate in international cooperation when a global health crisis occurs. During the 2020 Lunar New Year, an outbreak of Coronavirus in Wuhan, China quickly spread across the nation and to neighboring countries. The Coronavirus disease has caused thousands of deaths, and countries are working together to fight against this pandemic. However, despite its geographical location, Taiwan wasn’t able to participate in the Coronavirus meetings. The question now is whether politics should be involved when making decisions in an international institution that focuses on health issues and life-saving matters.

An important point to consider is that given Taiwan is only a few kilometers away from China’s southeast coast and has a frequent exchange of population with China, Taiwan could easily become a loophole in the international effort to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Taiwan has a population of 23 million, and there are roughly 1-2 million Taiwanese that live in China. Though there are slight decreases, the population flow through airplanes between mainland China and Taiwan has not been severely impacted by the outbreak of Coronavirus. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) page regarding Coronavirus and Traveling, there is a high risk of spreading the virus in populated environments like airports or airplanes.  Without incorporating Taiwan into the global campaign against the pandemic, there is a blind spot. The WHO should accept Taiwan into its task force to better coordinate its mitigation operation. It is not enough to have health checks in airports or cancel flights, Taiwan must have a seat at the table in order to prevent the further spread of Coronavirus.

Without being involved in global discussion on the pandemic, Taiwan is not able to get first-hand information or detailed statistics from other countries’ situations and can not coordinate with them for operations. The current mechanism for Taiwan to gain information is through communicating with their counterparts in China. Michael Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s health emergency program, said that they are working closely with provinces of China. Treating an independent country as a sub-state actor is not the kind of partnership Taiwan deserves. This causes Taiwan to always be behind in terms of information, and having an intermediary between the WHO and Taiwan could also result in potential misinformation. Taiwanese officials have complained that because they are not a member of WHO, they have trouble accessing the newest information, which negatively impacts international cooperation.

When politics begin to interfere with public health issues, international organizations that aim to save lives lose sight of their original purpose. As stated in the World Health Organization constitution, health is a fundamental right to every human. Are the 23 million Taiwanese not included? Should the international society prioritize politics and ignore the  well-being of 23 million lives? The constitution of WHO also noted that health is a collective issue. Without including Taiwan into the global effort of combatting the virus, the WHO’s effort could be jeopardized due to gaps in containment measures and misinformation. Health should be a common good accessible for all people. The Taiwanese should be no exception.