President Tsai-Ing Wen expresses gratitude for Taiwan supporters despite another failed attempt to be included in WHA meeting.
Angelo Brian T. Castro
Since 2019, Taiwan was declared by Numbeo’s Health Care Index, the world’s largest database of user-contributed data about cities and countries worldwide, as the best healthcare system in the world. Attaining 86.39 out of 100 of Numbeo’s criteria and closely followed by South Korea at 82.34. Despite being declared the country with the best healthcare system globally, Taiwan has been excluded from international meetings by the World Health Assembly (WHA). Unfortuneately, the democratic island’s 23 million residents has been no stranger to being isolated in international meetings or concerns.
In November 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS was first reported in southern China and had spread towards its neighboring countries. There were 8,098 infection cases reported, with 774 deaths. Taiwan has reported 73 deaths from SARS, the third-highest count behind Mainland China and Hong Kong. Better medical approaches to the disease could have been possible if Taiwan were neither deprived of direct access to crucial medical information nor ignored for its call for medical assistance from the World Health Organization. Taiwan fought a lonely war against SARS back in 2002. The World Health Organization had failed to put politics aside at the expense of Taiwanese lives then.
This time, the global community has been caught off-guard by COVID-19, which escalated into a pandemic early last year. COVID-19 has infected 167 million people worldwide, with 3.4 million deaths. Taiwan has been one of the first countries to prepare for the worst by learning from their SARS experience more than a decade ago. Taiwan initially rationed its medical supplies like facemask due to scarcity, but the government maneuvered through policy changes, and swiftly addressed the situation of mask scarcity. Having a surplus of badly needed medical supplies, Taiwan has bannered its #TaiwanCanHelp campaign that sends medical resources to countries that need them the most. Through this campaign, Taiwan has shown goodwill to countries whether they are diplomatic allies or not.
Since then, Taiwan has slowly obtained international support for their bid to join the World Health Assembly as their allies and friendly countries recognized Taiwan as its absence causes a dangerous gap in global health. The most significant support received by Taiwan was the G7 Communique (UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the EU). In May however, it was announced that Taiwan has never received an invitation to join the WHA meeting for the fifth consecutive year. The meeting is currently ongoing once more, with Taiwan noticeably absent and sidelined, from May 24 until June 1.
President Tsai-Ing Wen shared through her official social media account a message of gratitude to those who supported Taiwan’s bid for participation in the WHA, a critical meeting for World Health Organization’s decision-making. Taiwan has expressed its dismay for China’s “malicious blockade” for Taiwan’s participation in WHA as the latter claims the need for “proper arrangements.” As Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced, Taiwan’s participation in international organizations such as the WHO must follow the “one China” principle. She claimed that “In fact, no one cares more about the health and well-being of our Taiwan compatriots than we do.” They further justified that Taiwan is already receiving the support it needs by mentioning Taiwan’s inclusion in COVAX, a program co-organized by the World Health Organization.
What Taiwan can do to leverage its position in rejoining the conversation and its inclusion in these organizations, despite the barriers imposed by Beijing, is through a readjustment and realignment of its policies in dealing with Mainland China. By reassessing its own approach, whilst furthering the agenda of #TaiwanCanHelp, this multi-pronged approach would once again bring the population of the people living in Taiwan the recognition and representation it deserves on the global stage.