The World Health Assembly should, at minimum, be an international organisation which allows Taiwan to play a valuable role. Increasingly, democratic parliamentarians from across the globe are realising that what happens to Taiwan matters to all of us.

 

Auckland: There are few better places to have spent the last 12 months than Taiwan and New Zealand. As the global pandemic raged on, citizens across our respective nations were largely able to return to their lives as normal. Both governments escaped the devastating social and economic costs of lurching in and out of prolonged lockdowns, and most crucially, avoided the heart-breaking scenes that have engulfed India in recent weeks. While each life lost is a tragedy, Taiwan and New Zealand’s combined death toll is in the realms of tens, not tens of thousands.

In an article published in the international journal, The Lancet Regional Health: Western Pacific, lead author Dr Jennifer Summers, from the University of Otago, Wellington highlighted that Taiwan acted very early to control the virus, introducing health screening of air passengers on the day the World Health Organisation was informed of the outbreak in Wuhan on 31 December 2019. And that Taiwan benefited by having a Centres for Disease Control in place, as well as a National Health Command Centre dedicated to responding to emerging threats such as pandemics.

Taiwan’s particularly proactive approach, which was probably the most effective and least disruptive of any country’s, needs to be shared with the world. Yet despite the success of Taiwan and New Zealand, only one of these two governments will be represented at next month’s World Health Assembly, the general meeting of the World Health Organisation. For all its world beating efforts in tackling the Covid-19 virus, Taiwan will not even have a seat at the table. As the international community comes together to plan its way out of this devastating pandemic it will have no chance to hear from one of the few global success stories.

The reason for Taiwan’s exclusion is a result of the insistence of the government of the People’s Republic of China. What should be a moment of international solidarity has instead become an opportunity to focus on and highlight long standing diplomatic grudges.

Beijing demanded Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly be revoked in 2016 in reaction to the election of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen. China has repeatedly blocked calls to re-admit Taiwan in the wake of the pandemic. Our common global health has been blatantly politicised at a time of acute crisis.

Beijing sees any Taiwanese representation in international institutions as an affront to its claims of sovereignty over the island. To allow Taiwan to openly participate in global affairs would be to publicly acknowledge the geographical limits of Beijing’s authority.

At this time, we need China to be a good global citizen and to help the world to treat and to heal from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For international institutions, governments and companies across the globe it is easier to simply pretend that Taiwan does not exist rather than risk riling an economic superpower. Beijing has long insisted that Taiwanese athletes compete in the Olympic Games under “Chinese Taipei” and are barred from celebrating with Taiwan’s flag or anthem. International airlines and hotel chains risk website blocks and Chinese state instigated consumer boycotts should they fail to list outlets in Taiwan as part of China.

Only Taiwan’s 23 million citizens have the right to choose their own future. The international community has no right to interfere with this. Yet Beijing is doing its utmost to ensure that these choices are made under duress. That is not open democracy. Last month, 25 Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwan’s airspace, the largest reported incursion to date. President Xi Jinping has confirmed that China would consider taking Taiwan by military force if independence is declared.

Independence at this point in time is not on Taiwan’s agenda. Contributing as a good global citizen and being represented at the seventy-fourth World Health Assembly from 24 May to 1 June 2021 to help address the Covid-19 pandemic is. IPAC is trying to highlight and recognise the world-leading contributions that Taiwan is making to our global wellbeing. This is most obvious in the realm of global health. At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Taiwan donated critical medical supplies and equipment to other countries in their time of need. Long before this, Taiwan made vital contributions to the global fight against tuberculosis and Ebola.

The World Health Assembly should, at minimum, be an international organisation which allows Taiwan to play a valuable role. Increasingly, democratic parliamentarians from across the globe are realising that what happens to Taiwan matters to all of us. One only needs to look at the brutal dismantling of the democratic rights and freedoms promised to Hong Kong to know what the Chinese Communist Party has planned for a reunited Taiwan. This is an open challenge to democracy, human rights and the international rules based order.

That is why I, together with over 200 parliamentarians from across the democratic world, have formed the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. Together we hope to bridge our national and party divisions to inform the approach of democratic countries towards China.

Earlier this week I, and other members of IPAC, issued a statement calling on the World Health Organisation to admit Taiwan to the World Health Assembly. Anything less creates a dangerous gap in the global network at a time of acute need. Our message was clear: If Taiwan is left out, we all suffer. It is time to let Taiwan help.

 

Louisa Wall is a Labour Member of the New Zealand Parliament and Co-Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.