OTTAWA — Canada, the United States and six major allies have told the World Health Organization that its ongoing exclusion of Taiwan has created a serious public health concern during the COVID-19 crisis.
That sharp message was delivered in a letter, a draft of which has been viewed by The Canadian Press, that tells WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus to allow Taiwan to be given observer status at a major meeting of the organization on Monday.
Geneva-based diplomats from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and the U.S. issued the demand orally in a May 7 meeting with two other senior WHO officials, with the envoys from Washington and Tokyo taking the lead.
Canadian health officials also took part Friday in a videoconference that was hosted by Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, said a senior government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue due to its sensitivity.
Support for Taiwan is controversial because China vigorously opposes granting any such access. It views Taiwan as a breakaway province and wants the world to heed its “one-China policy.”
While Canada does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, it does maintain trade and cultural relations, and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has said the island’s presence as a non-state observer at this week’s meetings would help the pandemic fight.
The draft of the letter delivers a sharp explanation of that point: it says Taiwan’s early success at controlling the pandemic qualifies it for a seat at the World Health Assembly meetings, and the letter essentially tells the agency to stop playing politics.
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“Taiwan’s isolation from the global health community not only presents a serious public health concern, but also is an obstacle that hampers ongoing and future efforts,” letter states.
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The letter also says the international community is “harmed” when important health information is not permitted to “flow freely and easily.”
The letter calls Taiwan a capable and responsible player in the world’s health community, and says it has scientific and technical expertise “that could help save lives around the world.”