Taiwan must accept Chinese status to attend WHO, says Beijing

Former European leaders say world needs Taiwan’s expertise in tackling coronavirus

Beijing has stepped up the pressure on European states to reject Taiwan’s call to be represented at next week’s assembly of the World Health Organization, arguing that its presence can only be justified if it accepts that it is part of China.

The World Health Assembly is being held virtually on Monday, and Taiwan’s attendance – as well as a possible international inquiry into the start of the pandemic – are likely to be the two big political flashpoints between China and the west.


Chinese diplomats have been contacting governments across Europe to limit the diplomatic support for Taiwan’s attendance, targeting northern and eastern European states. Maintaining collective EU unity on China is proving difficult.

But in a letter to the Guardian, the former Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former president of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski and the former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt argue that Taiwan should be permitted to attend because of its pioneering response to the pandemic, which has drawn on the lessons of the 2003 Sars outbreak.

“It is regretful that geopolitics has prevented Taiwan from fully accessing the forums and services of the World Health Organization – not least as the WHO could have benefited from its expertise,” the authors argue.

Taiwan had observer status at the WHO for seven years until 2016, when it was blocked by China, as it has been every year since. Beijing believes Taiwan is deploying the WHO issue as a route to recognition internationally.

Donald Trump – locked into a multifaceted dispute with China – is already withholding US funds from the WHO, which he describes as “China-centric.”

He has led the calls for Taiwan to be admitted to the UN body, and support is also coming from Australia, the UK, Japan, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. China is also concerned it may be losing the support of India on the issue.

Rasmussen argues next week’s assembly could prove a turning point in the fight against coronavirus, saying the pandemic has underlined the importance of robust multilateral coordination.

In the letter, Rasmussen claims Taiwan’s success in controlling the virus shows the country has lessons to teach the rest of the world, adding its attendance “will have no wider implications than to ensure that 23 million people with something to offer are not excluded from exchanging best practices”.

Taiwan’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said on Friday his country could not accept China’s conditions for its participation.

“We have no way to accept something that does not exist,” Chen replied, referring to China’s demand that Taipei agree to its “one China” policy to attend the assembly.

WHO officials say the director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, cannot invite Taiwan since there are divergent views on the issue within.

The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, has called for an independent inquiry into the crisis, writing: “To strengthen our defences against future pandemics, we also need a thorough, independent scientific inquiry into the origins of the crisis.” China has been resistant, and the terms of any inquiry, as well as its timing, will be contested.

Last month, Tedros himself accused Taiwan of racist “attacks” over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, an allegation that Taiwan denied as “unprovoked and untrue”.

Tedros’s claim came after Taiwan said in March that the organization had ignored its December warnings that human-to-human transmission of coronavirus was possible.

A WHO tweet on 14 January said: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”

But documents show that the international body warned the US and other countries about the risk of human-to-human transmission of Covid-19 as early as 10 January.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has dismissed claims of Chinese dominance at the WHO as rumour and smear-mongering.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China's handling of coronavirus is a diplomatic challenge for WHO
Beijing’s draconian measures to contain outbreak have delayed global transmission

Sarah Boseley Health editor

18, Feb, 2020 @7:36 PM

Article image
China backs 'comprehensive review' of pandemic
Xi Jinping under pressure over origins of coronavirus crisis and Taiwan at World Health Assembly

Lily Kuo in Beijing

18, May, 2020 @1:44 PM

Article image
Taiwan reports first death from coronavirus
Taxi driver with diabetes and hepatitis B is fifth fatality outside mainland China

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

16, Feb, 2020 @4:09 PM

Article image
Beijing accuses G7 ministers of interfering in China’s affairs
Foreign ministry responds to west’s human rights claims, saying countries should ‘face up to their own problems’

Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent

06, May, 2021 @2:38 PM

Article image
UK to continue funding WHO saying global unity 'essential' to beat Covid-19
Downing Street distances UK from Donald Trump’s accusations against China and WHO

Peter Walker Political correspondent

15, Apr, 2020 @2:07 PM

Article image
Truss hits out at China’s ‘inflammatory’ reaction to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit
UK foreign secretary calls US House speaker’s trip ‘perfectly reasonable’ and urges China to de-escalate

Aubrey Allegretti

03, Aug, 2022 @3:19 PM

Article image
US says Beijing has no reason to turn Pelosi’s expected Taiwan visit into a ‘crisis’
National security council says speaker has ‘right to visit’ after China warns its military would ‘not sit idly by’

Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent and Ed Pilkington in New York

01, Aug, 2022 @8:29 PM

Article image
Beijing accuses US of ‘political manipulation’ in latest Taiwan row
State department fact sheet amended to remove line saying US ‘does not support Taiwan independence’

Vincent Ni, and Julian Borger in Washington

10, May, 2022 @5:54 PM

Article image
US and Chinese officials discuss Biden-Xi meeting amid Taiwan friction
Two leaders raised possibility of in-person encounter when they last talked by phone in late July, US official confirms

Julian Borger in Washington

12, Aug, 2022 @7:39 PM

Article image
Taiwan monitoring Chinese strike group off the coast after president meets US speaker
China has said it would take ‘resolute’ measures to defend sovereignty, after denouncing Tsai’s meeting in California with McCarthy

Helen Davidson in Taipei, and Amy Hawkins

06, Apr, 2023 @3:39 AM