Taiwan's WHO status on the agenda as World Health Assembly convenes

The World Health Organization (WHO) is to raise the question of Taiwan's participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA), which opens virtually on Monday, before one of its committees.

A UN flag waves in front of the United Nations (UN) building in Bonn, Germany

A UN flag waves in front of the United Nations (UN) building in Bonn, Germany Source: EPA

Representatives of the United Nation's 194 member states will gather for the 73rd World Health Assembly devoted almost entirely to strengthen global co-ordination against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The assembly will last two days and will be held in a virtual format due to restrictions in place to curb the spread of the virus.

The annual meeting comes at a time when the WHO has attracted unprecedented global attention for its co-ordinating and advisory role during the pandemic which affects 4.5 million people worldwide and has caused more 300,000 deaths.

But the WHO has not escaped criticism nor controversy during its handling of the crisis, with the bulk of accusations of mismanagement coming from the US government but also Australia and Germany.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has weathered much of the criticism and has been accused by US President Donald Trump of being biased towards Chinese information in the first weeks of the outbreak at the beginning of the year.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Source: AAP

Dr Tedros famously said that China had set "a new standard for outbreak control" and that the country's actions had "bought the world time".

This did not stop Mr Trump from freezing US funding of WHO in April, which amounts to about 15 per cent of the organisation's entire budget.

Up until then, the US, currently the world's COVID-19 hotspot with 1.5 million infections, has traditionally been the UN-backed organisation's main donor.

The European Union, another region that has been seriously battered by the coronavirus outbreak, is calling on countries to jointly develop a review of the pandemic's management.

The EU, Russia, Japan, Mexico and Australia, among others, will request for a "gradual process of impartial, independent and exhaustive evaluation" to start as soon as possible.

Digging for liabilities could add tension to an assembly in which not only the WHO but also China, where the disease was first detected, could be questioned over their management.

Taiwan status

There will be another thorny issue on the agenda: whether to include Taiwan as an observer of the assembly.

Taiwan became the first government in the world to deploy prevention measures against the coronavirus which resulted in only 440 cases and seven deaths, despite being just 180 kilometres from the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung (AAP)
Source: Sipa USA Walid Berrazeg / SOPA Images/Sip

Diplomatic allies of the island including Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay have formally requested to invite Taiwan to the meeting.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also publicly requested for the island-state to be present.

Member states will vote on whether to invite Taiwan into the assembly at the beginning but a unanimous result is necessary and many think it is unlikely the Chinese government will allow it.

Ever since pro-independence President Tsao Ing-wen was sworn into office in 2016, China has vetoed Taiwan's inclusion at UN bodies.

The assembly is expected to send a message of solidarity to health workers worldwide who have been at the heart of the pandemic with at least 100,000 contracting the respiratory disease and 260 deaths.

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Published 18 May 2020 at 5:42am, updated 18 May 2020 at 6:54am