The Debate

The World Can Benefit From Taiwan’s WHO Participation

Recent Features

The Debate | Opinion

The World Can Benefit From Taiwan’s WHO Participation

With Taiwan absent from the WHO, the health of the Taiwanese people and the world is at greater risk.

The World Can Benefit From Taiwan’s WHO Participation
Credit: Office of the President, ROC (Taiwan)

The world is facing a widespread coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 900 people and infected over 40,000 — the vast majority in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Medical experts and government agencies around the world are working together to stop the spread of the deadly virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. At the forefront of fighting this epidemic is the World Health Organization (WHO).

Unfortunately, Taiwan is excluded from WHO participation. So long as Taiwan is absent from the WHO, not only is the healthcare of the Taiwanese people at risk, but the world’s medical community suffers from the loss of a great asset.

Taiwan has the best health care system in the world, according to the 2019 edition of the CEOWORLD magazine Health Care Index. Taiwan’s single-payer compulsory health insurance system and novel electronic health record system awe and wow health experts and officials from around the world when they visit Taiwan.

The WHO is remiss to exclude Taiwan’s participation, especially during the coronavirus outbreak. There are two main reasons to justify Taiwan’s appeal for WHO participation. First, not being a WHO member means Taiwan is not informed of the latest outbreak information through WHO’s “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” system. This puts both Taiwan and the world at risk when information is not exchanged with speed and accuracy through the WHO’s available channels. It is also an infringement of Taiwan’s health rights. Second, Taiwan would be a tremendous contributor to the international health community, not only because Taiwan gained experience during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, but also because it is a leader in influenza prevention and is located right next door to mainland China. Taiwan can be the first responder to China’s emergency needs, though it also suffers first from China’s failures.

I must call out to Beijing to stop its political maneuvers to exclude Taiwan from WHO participation and let health welfare ring free.

The current state of cross-strait relations is at the root of the PRC’s objection to Taiwan’s WHO participation. It is unwise for Beijing to allow a political dispute to hinder livelihood issues. It is wrong and unjust and hurts Taiwanese-Chinese people-to-people relations.

If Beijing is a responsible international stakeholder, it should not turn its back when Taiwan seeks international health participation.

Brookings Institution scholar and former chairman and director of the American Institute in Taiwan Richard Bush has rightly said that without Taiwan’s participation, the WHO would be a health organization that does not represent the world. Taiwan is an integrated part of the world and should not be excluded over the PRC’s political maneuvers.

The WHO’s mission is to advocate and catalyze global and national actions to resolve health crises, to support the achievement of the health-related millennium development goals and health for all. Leaving Taiwan out creates a hole in the international coverage and deviates from the WHO’s mission. We call for the WHO to give Taiwan observer status. Historically, Taiwan was granted World Health Assembly observer status from 2009 onwards, but that ended because of Beijing’s objections.

The WHO must recognize that the PRC does not have jurisdiction nor governance power over Taiwan. The WHO should not only grant Taiwan’s membership but should also eliminate the internal rule dictating that on matters pertinent to Taiwan, the organization should yield to Beijing. The rule simply does not reflect reality.

Taiwan has earned a reputation as a friendly and peace-loving nation. We have always been a responsible international stakeholder that keeps its end of a bargain. I am especially thankful for our allies that spoke out for us, including our friends in the U.S. Congress, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, and Japanese Prime Minister Abe for their support. Taiwan will continue its efforts for international healthcare. We can do more with WHO membership. It is time for the WHO to put politics aside and think about what is good for world health.

Eric Li-Luan Chu, Ph.D., was the mayor of Taiwan’s New Taipei City, former chairman of Taiwan’s opposition KMT, and the KMT’s 2016 presidential candidate.