world health

Communist China Again Blocks Taiwan From World Health Body

27 June 2023

2.9 MINS

Taiwan has much to offer the world in terms of public health. Taiwan’s national health insurance scheme covers the entire 25 million people on the island of Taiwan. The national health insurance scheme was introduced in 1995 and is free. This comprehensive medical system is both public and extensive.

This is only one area where Taiwan is a world leader. Taiwan, living up to its reputation as a high-tech nation, has made many advances in medical technology that are exported to the world.

When Taiwan was retroceded to the Republic of China in 1945, at the end of World War II, many infectious diseases were endemic. Through concerted public-health campaigns, diseases such as cholera, typhoid, rabies and malaria were eliminated.

During the recent covid epidemic, the virus was controlled through public-health measures such as universal mask-wearing on public transport. Mass lockdowns were avoided. Most people avoided public gatherings to prevent the transmission of the disease. People went out in small groups, thus minimising the effect of the anti-covid campaign on Taiwan’s service-based economy.

Immunisation was almost universal. The covid epidemic has been halted in its tracks and the island continues to prosper.

Taiwan has much to offer the world, yet Taiwan’s repeated attempts to enter the World Health Organisation (WHO), the world’s pre-eminent public-health organisation, have been stymied for blatantly partisan reasons.

Ostracised

The World Health Organisation was founded in 1948. Its headquarters are located in the Swiss city of Geneva. The WHO’s controlling body is the World Health Assembly (WHA). The WHO is an instrumentality of the United Nations (UN).

Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China (ROC), is not a member of the United Nations. The “China seat” is now occupied by the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC). However, although Taiwan is unlikely to gain full membership of the WHA, there is nothing to prevent it gaining observer status – apart from the opposition of the PRC.

If Taiwan gained entry to the WHA, it would benefit Taiwan and many other nations, which could benefit from Taiwan’s expertise in healthcare.

Some observers say that it is impossible for Taiwan to gain observer status at the WHA, but this is mistaken. When Ma Ying-jeou was president of Taiwan, Taiwan had observer status at the WHA. Ma recently made a private visit to mainland China with the aim of improving ties. He also hoped to improve the electoral standing of the Kuomintang (KMT), which favours a reduction of tensions with the PRC.

Ma was president of the ROC for two consecutive terms, and could technically stand again, though observers close to Ma think that this is highly unlikely. Thus, if the KMT candidate wins the presidential election in early next year, it is entirely possible that the PRC will look more favourably on Taiwan’s bid to gain observer status at the WHA. To put it bluntly, the only obstacle standing between Taiwan’s entry bid to enter the WHA is the PRC, acting out of purely political motives.

Possibilities

In May this year, Taiwan attempted to gain entry to the WHA as an observer. Unfortunately, it failed, but not through lack of trying. At the next World Health Assembly, in 2024, it is likely that Taiwan will make another attempt to gain entry.

It must be stressed that Taiwan is not seeking to become a full member of the WHA, but to gain observer status. This would seem to be a modest aim, but the PRC is intransigent in its opposition to Taiwan’s entry in any form.

The upcoming presidential election in Taiwan may result in a change of circumstances. President Tsai Ing-wen, who represents the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has served two terms and cannot stand again. The DPP does not recognise that Taiwan is part of China.

The opposition Kuomintang, on the other hand, is in favour of lowering tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Many KMT supporters are descendants of the soldiers who followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan from mainland China.

The likely outcome of the presidential election is far from clear, although many observers rate the KMT’s chances as good. In the meantime, if the PRC views the outcome of Taiwan’s presidential poll benignly, it is possible it may cease to block Taiwan’s attempt to gain entry to the WHA.

Whatever happens, it is likely that Taiwan will make another attempt to join the WHA. If Taiwan gained entry to the WHA, it would benefit Taiwan and many other nations, which could benefit from Taiwan’s expertise in healthcare.

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Originally published in News Weekly. Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy.

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2 Comments

  1. Jim Twelves 27 June 2023 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Jeff, thank you for your piece. I appreciate your perspective – Taiwan has done well with health, so why should they not be admitted to the World Health Assembly (WHA).
    However, I have a different take on this subject. Each nation and culture have intricate differences in how they might respond to a specific infection. I don’t assume that all humans will respond alike because we are human. There may be similarities but our genetic make up and cultural differences will impact the spread of a disease greatly.
    So, I suggest the place for a WHA is one to receive various stories and experiences, but each nation should be responsible for their response. It is foolhardy, in my view, to think that a ‘one size fits all’. The WHA and WHO should be ‘think tanks’ not disseminators of global protocols.

    • Kaylene Emery 27 June 2023 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      I am so glad you understand enough to articulate your position Jim. On this issue, I do not I simply find it a chilling read.

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