05/18/2020, 14.00
CHINA – TAIWAN
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WHO Assembly: international coronavirus inquiry and Taiwan’s status

WHO’s decision-making body meets today and tomorrow. China opposes both requests. For many observers, the Chinese Communist Party does not want to lose face.

Geneva (AsiaNews) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) is holding its annual assembly today and tomorrow via videoconference.

The main issues on the agenda are a request by the United States, Australia and the European Union for an independent international inquiry into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Taiwan to be granted observer status in the organisation.

China has blocked both requests. Western countries suspect China of lying about the outbreak in order to contain potential threats to its internal stability. China refuses any blame by the United States and its allies.

The Trump administration has repeatedly attacked Beijing for its handling of the pandemic crisis, as well as for trying to use the situation to boost its international prestige.

An inquiry has few changes to take place since China is backed by its trading partners; together they can block any action by WHO assembly.

Even the alternative solution proposed by Washington, namely an inquiry by the International Court of Justice, has little chance of success since China can block it with its veto at the United Nations Security Council.

Beijing has rejected decisions by the international court in the past. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China's territorial claims to nearly 90 per cent of the South China Sea.

For most observers, China does not want to lose face over the COVID-19 or Taiwan. The island is one of the countries that successfully tackled the pandemic crisis. To contain the virus, Taiwanese authorities intervened quickly and decisively, without waiting for the WHO’s belated instructions.

WHO leaders claim to have kept channels of communication open with the island during the crisis. For Taiwan, its exclusion from the WHO does not encourage the sharing of experiences and information useful for the global fight against the pandemic.

Ultimately, the issue is political. Communist China sees Taiwan's presence in the WHO as an implicit recognition of its independence and as a repudiation of its ‘one China principle’.

For the Chinese, Taiwan is not a sovereign state, but a "rebel" province, to be reunited by force if necessary. From this perspective, Taiwanese demands to WHO must be submitted by the Chinese government.

The tensions between Taipei and Beijing took a turn for the worse in 2016, when the current Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen was elected for the first time.

Tsai heads the Democratic Progressive Party, which is in favour of the island's formal independence from mainland China.

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