Taiwan coronavirus surge won’t advance its World Health Assembly cause: analysts

·4-min read

Beijing will not allow Taipei to use its surge in coronavirus cases as leverage in its long-running campaign to join an international health body, according to mainland analysts.

And with relations across the Taiwan Strait continuing to languish, there was little Beijing could do to help rein in the outbreak on the self-ruled island, observers said.

Taiwan is grappling with a sudden rise in community infections thought to be driven by a variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.

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In all, 333 new local cases were reported on Monday, taking the island’s total to 2,017, most of them in the Greater Taipei area in the north.

Analysts on the mainland said the outbreak could not be used to rally international support for Taiwan to join the World Health Assembly, a body that meets once a year to set policy for the World Health Organization.

Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinghong said Taiwan had largely contained the coronavirus pandemic in the past without being a part of the WHO.

“China will not allow the island to join its yearly assembly just due to the recent infection spike,” Shi said.

Beijing has blocked all efforts by Taipei to take part in the assembly since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected the island’s president in 2016.

Tsai has not recognised the “1992 consensus”, a principle that Beijing regards as the foundation of any cross-strait relationship. The consensus is an understanding that there is only one China but that each side has its own interpretation of what that means.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be returned to the mainland fold – by force if necessary.

Last week, Taiwan’s health authority rejected that condition for the island to be able to take part in this year’s assembly, which starts on May 24.

Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung also said Taipei would not give up efforts to take part in the gathering.

Zhu Songling, a Taiwan affairs expert from Beijing Union University, said Taiwan should not try to use its outbreak to gain more support from the international community.

Coronavirus: Taiwan’s outbreak surges with 333 new infections

“The reason Taiwan’s coronavirus situation has worsened is because the island did a poor job in screening imported cases,” Zhu said, adding that Beijing was willing to help the island to contain the spreading of the virus.

The stalemate has added to mistrust in Taiwan, where more than 75 per cent of respondents to a survey in March said they would be unwilling to take Covid-19 vaccines developed by mainland companies, according to local news reports. The island has struggled to secure supplies of coronavirus vaccines.

On Monday night, the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing said the mainland was willing to do whatever it could to help the island control the pandemic. It urged the Taiwanese authorities to remove political barriers to ensure residents’ access to vaccines.

“[We believe] our Taiwan compatriots would be eager to receive the Chinese vaccines from the mainland,” a TAO spokeswoman said.

Hu Lingwei, a Taiwan affairs specialist from the Shanghai Institute for East Asian Studies, said Beijing would give whatever help the island requested.

But Xiamen University cross-strait relations specialist Ji Ye said Beijing was between a rock and hard place in terms of offering assistance.

Coronavirus: Taiwanese urged not to panic buy as new curbs take effect

“The mainland’s efforts such as vaccine sharing have been stigmatised and would be treated as an attempt to promote unification,” Ji said.

To try to contain the outbreak, Tsai has urged the public to download tracing apps and avoid panic buying.

“I have confidence Taiwan will rise to the challenge. As long as we stay alert & work together to implement prevention measures, we can contain #COVID19 and keep one another safe,” she said on social media on the weekend.

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