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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

GS-II :
  • 13 May, 2020

  • 10 Min Read

India caught in U.S.-China spat over Taiwan’s status at WHO

India caught in U.S.-China spat over Taiwan’s status at WHO

Introduction

As tensions between the U.S. and China rise over the novel coronavirus pandemic, India, which is set to take over as the next Chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s decision-making executive body in May, is faced with a major choice on whether to support a U.S. move to reinstate Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) or to China’s opposition to it.

U.S. demands

Washington is making efforts to gain support for its move to effect changes at the WHO.

The U.S. has, in the recent past, accused WHO of acting as a “PR agency” for China during the pandemic.

U.S. Senate passed an Act (S.249) to “direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization”, beginning with its decision-making body, the WHA.

The Geneva-based WHA will hold a virtual meeting on May 18 and 19 to elect members to the 34-nation Executive Board.

Officials have confirmed that India’s nominee will take over as the Chairperson, replacing Japan.

India is likely to hold the post for the next three years. The timing of the appointment is crucial, given the worldwide debate on the role of the WHO during the pandemic, and criticism of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

China’s demands

China has also stepped up warnings on any attempt to include or support Taiwan’s role at the WHA, referring to the “One-China” principle as “a widely accepted universal consensus of the international community including the Indian government.”

China's position on Taiwan region’s participation in WHO activities, including WHA is clear and consistent. It must be handled according to the ‘One China’ principle.

World Health Assembly

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.

The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.

It is the world's highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.

The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland.

Executive Board

The Executive Board is composed of 34 individuals technically qualified in the field of health, each one designated by a Member State elected to do so by the World Health Assembly. Member States are elected for three-year terms.

The Board meets at least twice a year; the main meeting is normally in January, with a second shorter meeting in May, immediately after the Health Assembly.

The main functions of the Executive Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.

What is Taiwan's relationship with the WHO?

  • WHO membership is only given to countries that are members of the United Nations - which does not recognise Taiwan - or whose applications are approved by the World Health Assembly.
  • What this means is that Taiwan has been excluded from emergency meetings and important global expert briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Taiwanhas been denied permission to attend the World Health Assembly's annual meetings in recent years.
  • It also means the WHO lists Taiwan's coronavirus statistics together with China's.
  • The exclusion, coupled with the WHO's repeated praise of China's response to the outbreak - which public health experts have criticised - has led some to accuse the organisation of political bias towards China, a major contributor to the organisation.
  • The WHO is far from the only global body that excludes or does not officially recognise Taiwan - other major examples include the International Olympics Committee and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
  • The island previously enjoyed good relations with Beijing, and in the past was an observer at the World Health Assembly, but it lost this status in recent years as tensions have increased between Taipei and Beijing.

Why is Taiwan's exclusion a problem?

  • Taiwan consistently raises objections every time it is excluded from a global body, saying it is unfair and discriminatory.
  • This time it has made the same point, adding that it should not be left out at a time where global cooperation is needed more than ever.
  • Earlier this month, Taiwan accused the WHO of ignoring it when the government asked about person-to-person transmission at the very start of the outbreak in China, which it said put lives at risk.
  • Taiwan has also pointed out that it learned many lessons from managing its coronavirus outbreak which could be shared with the world. The island has been praised for its swift and decisive handling of its epidemic, which has been relatively controlled and has seen few deaths.

Source: TH/BBC


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