Asia Politics

Tsai calls on the World Health Organization not to exclude Taiwan from coronavirus collaboration

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Key Points
  • Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on China on Wednesday to share "correct" information about a new virus which is spreading and urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) not to exclude Taiwan from collaboration on the outbreak for political reasons.
  • Taiwan's participation in international bodies must be arranged under the "One China" principle, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing in Beijing, referring to a core Chinese government policy that states Taiwan is part of China.
  • Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to the objection of China, which considers the island a Chinese province with no right to participate in international organisations unless it accepts it is part of China.
Masked passengers arrive at the Songshan Airport in Taipei on January 22, 2020.
Same Yeh | AFP | Getty Images

China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the central government cares for the health and well-being of its Taiwan compatriots more than anyone else.

Taiwan's participation in international bodies must be arranged under the "One China" principle, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing in Beijing, referring to a core Chinese government policy that states Taiwan is part of China.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on China on Wednesday to share "correct" information about a new virus which is spreading and urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) not to exclude Taiwan from collaboration on the outbreak for political reasons.

Authorities have confirmed more than 400 cases of the virus in China, most of them in the central city of Wuhan where the virus first appeared at the end of 2019. Nine people have died.

The virus, which health officials have said can be passed from person to person, has spread to cities including Beijing
and Shanghai, with cases have been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, as well as Taiwan.

Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to the objection of China, which considers the island a Chinese province with no right to participate in international organisations unless it accepts it is part of China.

Taiwanese medical experts can participate in WHO technical meetings, WHO experts can visit Taiwan for inspections, and Taiwan can promptly receive WHO information on global public health events, Geng said.

Tsai, speaking to reporters after Taiwan's Tuesday confirmation of its first case of the coronavirus, a woman returning to Taiwan from Wuhan, said China had to live up to its international obligations.

Tsai said she hoped for transparency and that China would "share with Taiwan correct information about the virus".

"This is also beneficial for China's people. We believe that political considerations should not come before safeguarding people," she said.

Taiwan was a part of the international community and faced the same health challenges and risks as everyone, Tsai said.

"I again call on the WHO not to exclude Taiwan due to political factors. Taiwan is at the forefront of global epidemic prevention. There needs to be room at the WHO for Taiwan's participation."

Relations between Taipei and Beijing have nosedived since Tsai took office in 2016, with China suspecting her of pushing for the island's formal independence. She says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, it's formal name.

The WHO office in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an email to Reuters on Tuesday that Taiwan was being kept informed.

"Taiwanese authorities, including health experts, are being informed through cross-strait channels as well as channels connected with the International Health Regulations. WHO is informed that there is cross-strait contact on this matter."

The deputy head of China's National Health Commission, Li Bin, told reporters in Beijing earlier that experts from Taiwan had been invited to visit Wuhan and the island was being provided with information.

In Taipei, Chuang Jen-hsiang, deputy head of Taiwan's Centres for Disease Control, confirmed health experts from the island had visited China and that they had good communication channels.

But Taiwan is unable to attend emergency meetings arranged by the WHO as it is not a member, he said. "We have no way to get the information first hand."

Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in the Chinese-speaking world, when millions of people travel for family reunions in what is the world's largest annual human migration.

— CNBC contributed to this report