Asia Politics

Taipei lashes out at China for blocking Taiwan's access to the World Health Organization

Key Points
  • Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said China was "vile" and "evil" for blocking Taipei's access to the World Health Organization (WHO) amid the new coronavirus outbreak.
  • China claims Taiwan as its territory and says the island is its province that must one day be reunified with the mainland.
  • As of Tuesday, Taiwan has reported 11 cases of the new coronvirus which is believed to have started in the city of Wuhan in China. China has registered 28,000 cases.
A woman wearing a protective mask prays at the Lungshan temple during the fourth day of the Lunar New year of the Rat in Taipei in January 28, 2020.
Sam Yeh | AFP | Getty Images

Taiwan has become more and more vocal in recent days about its exclusion from World Health Organization meetings.

It comes as the world grapples to contain the growing number of new coronavirus cases that has killed more than 560 people worldwide, most of whom died in China

Due to Beijing's objections, Taiwan has been denied membership to most international organizations including the WHO — a United Nations agency. Beijing considers Taiwan as part of its territory that must one day be reunified with the mainland and should have no right to participate in international diplomacy.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Joanne Ou, on Thursday slammed China and the WHO for providing wrong information about the number of coronavirus cases in Taiwan. The World Health Organization reported Tuesday that the island had 13 cases, when there were only 10 at that time.

Ou blamed Beijing for the error. "This was wrong information that was provided by China which created the mistake," she said.

Taiwan currently has 13 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus outbreak, believed to have originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan in province of Hubei. There are more than 28,000 infected people in mainland China alone, and all but two who have died were in China.

Putting political considerations over people's health and safety; this, basically, is extremely vile.
Joanne Ou
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

Earlier this week, Ou criticized Beijing for blocking Taipei's access to WHO, saying its isolation makes the island vulnerable to the deadly virus. All but two of the deaths occurred outside mainland China.

"Disease knows no national boundaries and there should be no loopholes in global epidemic prevention," Ou said in Mandarin at the press conference on Tuesday, according to a CNBC translation. "Putting political considerations over people's health and safety; this, basically, is extremely vile."

Taiwan Affairs Office — an administrative agency under mainland China — warned on Thursday that Taipei should not use the the epidemic as a pretext to seek independence.

As the virus continued to spread, Taiwan complained it had not been receiving firsthand information about the virus, vital for the protection and well-being of it people. On its part, China reportedly told the WHO in Geneva that it has shared latest information about the coronavirus outbreak with Taiwan on a timely basis.

Ou disputed Beijing's claims and said Taiwan has had very limited information, and instead relied on friendly countries such as the U.S. and Japan for information.

'One China' policy

Many countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, regard Taiwan as part of China under Beijing's "One China" policy, thus denying Taiwan diplomatic relationships and memberships. Communist China has never ruled over Taiwan.

Taiwan participated in the World Health Assembly, the WHO's annual policy meeting, from 2009 to 2016.

But relations between Beijing and Taipei have cooled, especially since Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in 2016. Tsai won a second term in office after sweeping to victory in January's presidential election.

WHO has received vital information from Taiwanese authorities and will be reporting back through established channels.
World Health Organization

Taiwan's diplomatic allies have been speaking out for its inclusion into the WHO, but Taipei has been left with a dwindling list of allies as various nations switch allegiances to Beijing, and cut diplomatic ties with the island.

In response to CNBC's queries, the World Health Organization said it was collaborating closely with Taiwanese authorities. Taiwanese experts are involved in all consultations with WHO and are "fully engaged and fully aware of all of the developments in the expert networks," according to a WHO statement.

"WHO has received vital information from Taiwanese authorities and will be reporting back through established channels," it added.

China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying said on Monday: "Taiwan compatriots are our brothers and sisters. If they encounter difficulties overseas, we are always ready to help."

"The WHO is a special UN agency consisting of sovereign states. Taiwan's participation in the activities of international organizations such as the WHO must be arranged properly through cross-strait consultations under the one-China principle," Hua said at a scheduled press conference.

Travel implications for Taiwanese

Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu on Sunday the World Health Organization's listing of Taiwan as a province under China has created practical problems.

Countries like Italy and Vietnam suspended flights to and from China, and included Taiwan on the list of destinations where flights were halted. Myanmar also directed domestic carriers to suspend charter flights between the city of Mandalay and Taipei alongside flights to some cities in China.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese are facing problems after Bangladesh stopped issuing visa on-arrival to Chinese on Sunday, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported.

Taipei said its diplomats are working hard on the ground to solve such issues.

"Cases like what's happening with Italy also show that the interests of the Taiwanese people are negatively affected by the WHO's decision to list Taiwan as part of China," said Wu on Sunday. "Hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers who got caught up at the airports will not be able to get compensation from airlines, and certainly not from the WHO."

On Tuesday, Taiwan evacuated the first batch of Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan, which is under lockdown in efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Taiwan had complained that China was not responding to requests to fly out Taiwanese, even as Beijing approved similar requests by other governments.