US vs China over Covid-19 goes up a notch ahead of WHO meet. Round 2 over Taiwan
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director general who has been blocking darts hurled at him over the global health agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has landed himself at centre of another bout of shadow boxing between the United States and China over letting Taiwan attend next week’s World Health Assembly as an observer.
The self-ruled island, which Beijing considers a wayward province awaiting reunification, has been excluded from WHO membership due to objections from China.
Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly as a non-voting observer from 2009 to 2016. But Beijing has blocked Taipei’s representation at the event after a China skeptic, Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in 2016. She was re-elected this year and is due to begin her second term on 20 May, two days after the WHA’s 18 May meet.
More than a dozen countries have proposed resolutions for the WHO to let Taiwan attend the World Health Assembly as an observer, arguing that the world needed to hear Taiwan that has been held up as a model in fighting the virus first detected in central China’s Wuhan last year.
The disease has since then killed 2,97,000 people, infected over 4 million, grounded the world economy and set off a back and forth between the United States, China and WHO’s Tedros.
Taiwan has had just about 400 cases and 7 deaths.
To be sure, this will not be the first time that an attempt has been made to restore Taiwan’s observer status for the World Health Assembly.
Fourteen member states had proposed Taiwan’s inclusion as an observer at WHO’s last annual meet on 28-29 May 2019. The WHO had then cited “procedure followed in previous years” to let two of them speak in favour of the resolution and two against before the general assembly delivered its ruling.
Apart from China, Cuba had opposed Taiwan’s inclusion. Eswatini in southern Africa and Honduras in central America had spoken in favour.
Diplomats in Geneva and Washington told Hindustan Times that the effort this time was to lobby for other countries to speak too. The chorus is growing, one of them said.
Already, fence-sitter Canada has backed Taiwan’s claim to be allowed to participate at the WHA meet apart from other countries such as Australia, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US that is fronting this campaign.
A report in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s CBS News said Canada had, for the first time, even gone to the extent of issuing a verbal demarche to two senior WHO executives asking that Taiwan be admitted as an observer to the Monday meeting because its input would be “meaningful and important.”
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Chinese diplomats have been on an overdrive over the coronavirus diseases, initially to play down the havoc that the Sars-CoV-2 virus could wreck on the world. And later when the situation became manageable back home, to even jeer at countries that were struggling with containing its fallout if they underscored transparency and accountability from the WHO or Beijing.
Where it could, it has also penalised critics. Like when Australia supported the US call for a probe into the origin of the virus, Chinese authorities threatened to impose heavy duties on barley imports and went ahead to suspend beef imports from four Australian suppliers.
Indian hasn’t taken a stand on Taiwan’s inclusion yet. But one government official noted how Beijing, that wants the world to acknowledge its ‘one China’ principle, didn’t demonstrate respect for India’s sovereignty when it comes to Kashmir, or building the China Pakistan Economic Border through Indian territory occupied by Islamabad.
It is not clear if senior minister Nitin Gadkari’s comment in an interview to NDTV that the virus that causes coronavirus disease was an off-the-cuff remark or an indicator that the government has an open mind on the origin of the disease. Gadkari told the news channel that the virus that causes Covid-19 wasn’t a natural virus but created in a laboratory, echoing a charge that has been repeatedly made by Washington.