Coronavirus threat shows ‘unacceptability’ of Beijing isolating Taiwan, US official says

Robert Delaney

The global spread of the new coronavirus has prompted the US government to push back against Beijing’s isolation of Taiwan, a state department official said on Thursday.

“This Covid-19 outbreak only further underlines the unacceptability of Taiwan being excluded from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Health Assembly because the People’s Republic of China blocks every attempt to do so,” said Jonathan Fritz, deputy assistant secretary at the US State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

“We continue to push back very, very hard against that with as many of our like-minded partners as possible, and I think our argument is only bolstered now by the outbreak,” Fritz said, speaking in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the US response to the contagion’s spread.

“And I would point out that, you know, this push by the [US government] is fully consistent with our US one-China policy and, of course, with the Taiwan Relations Act,” he said.

Taiwan has 31 cases of Covid-19 and one recorded death from the illness caused by the virus, which is also known as Sars-CoV-2.

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre banned all of the self-governed island’s doctors and nurses from visiting countries declared to be unfit destinations because of the outbreak, to ensure there would be adequate manpower to tackle the disease at home. The ban is meant to stay in place until the end of June.

Washington has supported calls for Taiwan to be granted observer status at the World Health Organisation’s annual gathering, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in May, at the start of the WHO’s annual assembly, which Beijing has prevented Taiwan from attending.

Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan under its one-China policy, which the US acknowledged in 1972.

For years, Beijing allowed Taiwan to send observers to the annual conference, but has blocked its representatives in recent years amid tensions between the mainland’s government and the island’s administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has a more fractious relationship with Beijing than the opposition.

US backs calls for Taiwan to be observer at World Health Assembly

In Thursday’s hearing, Fritz asserted that Beijing’s insistence on isolating Taiwan in the WHO framework hinders efforts to halt the Covid-19 spread.

“To the extent that they are unable to get timely information from the WHO that impacts public health on Taiwan,” he said.

“On the other hand, Taiwan has a lot of expertise … and they have their own epidemiological track record now dealing with Covid-19, and to the extent that that is not being shared in a complete and timely fashion with other WTO members, clearly, that doesn’t do anything for the public health of the rest of the international community,” Fritz added.

Tsai won a second term last month with a comfortable victory over Han Kuo-yu in an election that had been cast as a referendum on the island’s approach to Beijing. Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, captured more than 8 million votes, trumping her major challenger, Han, from the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, by close to 3 million votes.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on February 3 that Taiwan’s participation in the activities of international organisations such as the WHO must be arranged through cross-strait consultations under the one-China principle. He said Taiwan had timely access to information on global public health emergencies released by the WHO.

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