In the past few weeks, Washington has made repeated public declarations in support of Taiwan’s participation at this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA).
At the beginning of this month, the US Department of State initiated a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #TweetForTaiwan to push for the nation’s inclusion. The US mission to the UN posted a message on its official Twitter account that included the phrase: “Barring #Taiwan from setting foot on UN grounds is an affront not just to the proud Taiwanese people, but to UN principles.”
The coordinated campaign represents a clear toughening of US support for Taiwan: Washington appears no longer willing to merely voice lukewarm support for Taiwan — it is providing genuine backing.
Taiwan’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic has received praise from most of the world. In spite of its geographical proximity to China, the source of the outbreak, and its continued exclusion from the WHO, the nation has contained the virus.
This has allowed Washington to levy criticism at the WHO, contrasting the “Taiwan model” with the WHO’s handling of the pandemic and demanding reform of the organization.
Taiwan’s campaign for admission back into the organization is no longer simply a domestic issue: It will become a litmus test for WHO reform.
US President Donald Trump has begun to operate on the tumor by freezing WHO funding. However, the WHO is a proxy for the real target of Washington’s wrath: China, the main culprit of the global disaster. Washington also wants to reverse Beijing’s monopolization of the WHO, which has been in place for years.
Since Trump took office, his administration has displayed a clear mistrust toward international organizations. This was partly to further US national interest, but it was also in no small part due to a frustration at Beijing’s infiltration and manipulation of organizations.
China’s nefarious influence over the WHO was a significant factor in COVID-19 becoming a pandemic, as the organization aided and abetted Beijing in its cover-up. Many countries have for a long time been unhappy with China’s excessive influence over the WHO; Washington is trying to set things right.
However, the WHO is just the start. China has strategically infiltrated other UN organizations by getting high-level posts for Chinese officials and cultivating loyal non-Chinese appointees, such as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Over the years, China has extended its tentacles into an expanding number of organizations in what amounts to a stealthy attack on the international order.
On April 4, Jiang Duan (蔣端), a minister at the Chinese mission in Geneva, Switzerland, was appointed to one of the five seats on the UN Human Rights Council Consultative Group. The group is responsible for appointing and assigning teams of human rights investigators. Putting China in charge is akin to putting an arsonist in charge of a fire department.
International organizations have become the new battleground between the US and China, and the current fight is centered on the WHO. Each side is playing an elaborate game of attack and defense.
The WHO secretariat and Beijing have clearly been working in cahoots to quash Taiwan’s push to be readmitted into the WHO, invoking UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The resolution, passed in 1971, recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, replacing the Republic of China (ROC).
This might explain why the US mission to the UN posted its tweet excoriating the UN for barring Taiwan from UN grounds. It is extremely rare for US diplomats to express a stance on the UN’s rejection of Taiwan.
The statement should also be understood within the context of a broad range of indirect measures that Washington is employing to repudiate Beijing’s “one China” policy and support Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.
The Trump administration is competing with China for power and influence within international organizations. The aim is to expand Taiwan’s international presence while suppressing China’s malign influence.
When American Institute in Taiwan Chairman James Moriarty visited Taipei in March, he stressed to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) that the US would step up efforts to help Taiwan increase its level of international participation and presence.
Moriarty emphasized that the US and Taiwan must stand shoulder-to-shoulder through thick and thin to confront challenges and promote global progress.
US officials never describe the US-China relationship in such warm terms. Washington treats Taiwan like an ally, and its support for Taiwan’s participation at the WHA is louder than ever before.
While it is difficult to feel optimistic about the contest between the US and China, Washington does at least appear to be hunkering down for a protracted fight, refusing to rule out a withdrawal from the WHO and mooting the establishment of a new global public health body.
If Washington does go down this route, under US leadership and with the benefit of Taiwanese expertise in public health and medicine, Taiwan-US cooperation would go from strength to strength.
COVID-19 began in China and spread around the globe, and it is causing the international order to crumble. Beijing’s conduct, both within its borders and without, has demonstrated the Chinese state’s utter contempt for the international community.
As a result, many nations have begun to place clear boundaries to protect themselves from China, or are displaying heightened vigilance in their dealings with Beijing. Washington’s increased assistance to Taiwan is tangible evidence of this international trend.
International politics is influenced by the interests of individual nation states, but these interests are not purely economic. If a close relationship is deemed to be harmful, that relationship would be re-evaluated.
Once the dust settles, governments will tally the significant human and social costs of the pandemic and add them to the economic damage.
Australia and New Zealand are already discussing the idea of a “trans-Tasman bubble,” a quarantined travel zone that could admit other countries, including Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, that have successfully controlled the virus’ spread and done so in a transparent manner.
Although China claims to have been the first nation to suppress the virus, and restore its economy and society to normal, its lack of transparency and subterfuge mean it will never be allowed into the “bubble.” It is a reflection of the deep-seated distrust toward China that is fomenting worldwide.
Taiwan’s positive international image as a responsible nation has been given a significant boost by the nation’s display of scientific and technological prowess during the pandemic, increasing opportunities for dialogue and collaboration with other countries.
The nation’s substantial alliance with the US — including economic, military and political ties — will assist it in further elevating its diplomatic relationships with other nations. This could include the establishment of a “Taiwan-US trust bubble” to form an international network of Taiwan-friendly nations.
The government must seize this opportunity with both hands.
Translated by Edward Jones
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