The 76th World Health Assembly (WHA) opened on Sunday in Geneva, Switzerland, once again without Taiwan. The snub was formalized yesterday with a vote preceded by pleas from China and Pakistan to bar Taiwan from the proceedings.
It has become a well-worn refrain every year since Taiwan’s observer status was stripped in 2017 following the election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文): Taiwan protests the lack of an invitation, allies and some global partners chastise Beijing for its gratuitous disregard for global health and the meetings continue without Taiwan. Even Taiwanese reporters are blocked from events, as the Central News Agency was yesterday from the UN office in Geneva, despite having received press credentials.
Like clockwork, this tableau provides an annual stage upon which Taiwan and China act out their relationship for the world to see, with Beijing playing the oversized bully as Taipei shouts for justice from inside the locker it was stuffed into. Yet as it hears the same pleas year after year, the world is taking greater notice.
This time, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ tally, more than 6,000 people and groups around the world have called for Taiwan’s inclusion. Hailing from five continents and more than 70 countries, legislatures, think tanks, health professionals, academics and civil groups have given speeches, passed resolutions, made inquiries, published videos, held marches, posted on social media and more, creating an exigent wave of sound to buttress Taiwan’s lonesome voice. The ministry has also cheered higher-level support than in previous years, with senior ministers and multilateral summits issuing their own statements.
The WHA stage is as large as it is thanks to the modesty of Taiwan’s request. No matter what you think of Indo-Pacific politics, even the most pragmatic actor would find it difficult to argue against allowing access as a mere observer to an organization whose mission is to protect global health through open channels of communication. Exclusion from other global bodies such as the UN and International Civil Aviation Organization might be just as unjustified, but the salience of the WHO is more palpable, especially as the world recovers from a tragic pandemic overcome only through global cooperation. For those with only a passing understanding of the politics and history miring the two sides, the WHA makes it clear just how far China will go to silence Taiwan, as well as just how much Taiwan has to offer the world.
Taiwan has also grasped the opportunity to pique a sympathetic ear while it is listening. It has continued its social media campaign with the hashtags #TaiwanCanHelp, #LetTaiwanHelp, #LetTaiwanIn and #WHONeedsTaiwan, which have been adopted by thousands. Minister of Health and Welfare Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) is in Geneva to get Taiwan’s message across, setting the record straight on Sunday by saying that the WHO director-general can unilaterally extend Taiwan an invitation without a members’ vote, despite what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has claimed. The Taiwan United Nations Alliance and healthcare representatives are also in the Swiss city to hold exhibitions, give talks and attend events, ensuring that Taiwan’s presence is felt on the outskirts of the meetings.
While the world is watching, Taiwan is doing all it can to put its best foot forward and show that it has the determination, wherewithal and expertise to earn its seat at the table — as it does every year. Although it is disappointing that yet another WHA will pass without an invitation, supporters should take heart that people are listening, and that they are sympathetic. There are few better opportunities to get Taiwan’s message across than right now, and it is doing just that.
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