• Global Legal Innovation Advisory

Taiwan's Ties with Beijing: Analysing the Veracity of the China Commission Report on WHO & China

Updated: May 16

Dhanya Visweswaran,

Research Intern,

Internationalism.


The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (henceforth, China Commission), a body created by the US Congress, took out a report on Tuesday, 12th May 2020 [1]. This report explores how Taiwan has deliberately been excluded from being involved with the World Health Organization (henceforth, WHO) due to Beijing’s political influence within the organization. The report can be divided into three sections:

  • Section 1: It attempts to demonstrate the extent of the influence that Beijing has over the WHO and its hostile attitude towards Taiwan.

  • Section 2: It lays down the measures taken by Taiwan to control the spread of COVID-19 and further attempts to incriminate Beijing and the WHO for denying Taiwan’s outreach efforts.

  • Section 3: It details the implications of denying Taiwan’s outreach efforts such that a major burden of the world’s lack of preparedness is placed on Beijing and the WHO.

Thus, a lot of the blame for ostracizing Taiwan is placed on Beijing and the WHO. However, it is necessary to question whether these are well-founded claims and whether there exists a certain ulterior motive behind these assertions.


How and Why has Taiwan been so successful in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?


Taiwan’s proactive approach is a product of their past experience in dealing with the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) [2] outbreak. Closely following developments in Wuhan, Taiwan activated various measures as early as 31st December 2019 [3], almost a month before COVID-19 was officially declared as a ‘public health emergency’ by the WHO [4].

Taiwan’s measures to control the pandemic have been enumerated in quite some detail in the report. Major measures include activation of a Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) with daily briefings being provided to the public [5]; high-risk cases being identified by integrating insurance and immigration databases [6]; and retesting all travellers who tested negative for influenza but exhibited symptoms similar to it [7].

It is reasonable to infer via the report to a limited extent that not enlisting Taiwan’s support was a mistake and would have provided the rest of the world with invaluable guidance. Nevertheless, this is not the only aspect that the report brings forward. It also largely attempts to incriminate Beijing and the WHO for deliberately ignoring Taiwan’s repeated pleas to provide its assistance. The veracity of the claims, however, must be tested essentially.


Did Beijing deliberately, by way of its political influence within the WHO, ostracize Taiwan from providing important information regarding how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?


The report provides ample evidence in an attempt to prove the extent of Beijing’s influence within the WHO. There are repeated mentions of the fact that the WHO ignored Taiwan’s pleas to provide vital information [8] and instead lauded China for its questionably transparent procedures [9]. Additionally, there exists a claim that inaccurate information about the number of cases in Taiwan was published by the organization [10]. The report even went as far as to imply that the Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the behest of China, accused Taiwan of sending him death threats and attacking him online [11].

However, the evidence provided in the report is circumstantial at best. There is no denying that there exists a high likelihood of Beijing using its influence to keep Taiwan out of the WHO [12], especially considering past claims put forth by China of Taiwan belonging to its province under its ‘One China’ policy [13]. Further supporting these claims is China’s history of censoring information from its social media platforms and recent reports of the nation under-reporting its COVID-19 numbers by changing its calculation technique [14].

However, it is worth noting that the report does not, in any way, prove Beijing’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt and is only successful in sowing certain seeds of doubt in the mind of the public. In fact, many other countries have accused the WHO of being too influenced by the U.S. itself [15].


Can an ulterior motive be sensed on the part of the U.S. in issuing this report?


It is an undisputed fact that the Donald Trump administration has not taken the most timely action during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Trump supporters do deflect blame from his lax administration to every other party imaginable. Considering this, wondering if the report is not merely a document to disseminate vital information to the public and rather the beginning of a strategy to explain away the US’ unsuccessful attempts at dealing with increasing COVID-19 numbers is not a far-fetched train of thought.

From providing unlicensed medical opinions about potential vaccines [16]; pushing to reopen the economy, first by Easter [17] and then by 1st May 2020 [18]; and supposedly ignoring 12 early warnings about how deadly COVID-19 could be [19], Trump, in his own eyes, has put forth a brilliant example to the rest of the world on how to deal with any crisis situation. POTUS has even gone on to use his own impeachment as an excuse for why it took him so long to react to the pandemic [20].

Now, hearing his second in command, Vice President Mike Pence alleging that

“The reality is that the U.S. could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming [21],”

which should be an ethical ground to reasonably and clinically apprehend about what new conspiracy theories the US state actors and other non-state actors such as political pundits and leaders could come up with to explain away his inadequacies.

It may be the case that using Taiwan as a catalyst, the US intends to point fingers at Beijing and the WHO, regardless of whether they are to blame or not and without adequately proving their guilt. The U.S. will cite the lack of vital information from Taiwan as a major reason for its repeated failures.


Conclusions


Despite certain errors in judgement having been made, it is still not too late to include Taiwan in the WHO and enlist its support. This move is of utmost necessity. However, we must also err on the side of caution before applauding the US for its seemingly heroic act of pushing for Taiwan’s involvement, especially since other nations such as Australia have long taken up Taiwan’s cause in the WHO and much more consistently [22].

The pandemic has, at the end of the day, become political. We, as indirect subjects of the international world order, need to be wise and take all claims put forward towards us with a reasonable degree of scepticism and wisdom.



References


[1] Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic, ‘Beijing’s Deadly Game: Consequences of excluding Taiwan from the World Health Organization during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ (U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 12 May 2020) <https://t.co/1vcMh0Vo0E> as accessed 14 May 2020. [2] Yu-Jie Chen and Jerome A. Cohen, ‘Coronavirus: Taiwan exclusion from WHO’ (Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization, 14 April 2020) <https://unpo.org/article/21818> as accessed 14 May 2020. [3] Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ‘Taiwan Has Benn Shut Out of Global Health Discussions. Its Participation Could Have Saved Lives’ (Time, 18 March 2020) <https://time.com/5805629/coronavirus-taiwan/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [4] Statement, ‘Statement on the Second Meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee Regarding the Outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)’ (World Health Organization, 30 January 2020) <https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/30-01-2020-statement-on-the-second-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-outbreak-of-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)> as accessed 14 May 2020. [5] Press Release, ‘In Response to Wuhan Pneumonia Outbreak, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Continues to Integrate Resources Across Government Agencies and Thoroughly Safeguard Prevention Work’ (Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, 22 January 2020) <https://www.cdc.gov.tw/En/Bulletin/Detail/fp11P_DipG9-nOlWpMcPzg?typeid=158> as accessed 14 May 2020. [6] Press Release, ‘Name-Based Rationing System for Purchases of Masks to be Launched on February 6; Public to Buy Masks With Their (NHI) Cards’ (Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, 4 February 2020) <https://www.cdc.gov.tw/En/Bulletin/Detail/ZlJrIunqRjM49LIBn8p6eA?typeid=158> as accessed 14 May 2020. [7] Press Release, ‘To Strengthen Community-Based Surveillance, Groups with Foreign Travel or Contact History or Other Groups of Potential Risks Included in COVID-19 Testing Procedure’ (Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, 16 February 2020) <https://www.cdc.gov.tw/En/Bulletin/Detail/m24IYCRA0lQIU_PnOTL-yw?typeid=158> as accessed 14 May 2020. [8] Steven Nelson, ‘Trump Says WHO Ignored Taiwanese Email Citing Coronavirus Transmission’ (New York Post, 17 April 2020) <https://nypost.com/2020/04/17/trump-cites-taiwan-email-to-who-about-covid-19-transmission/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [9] Jenni Fink, ‘WHO Praises China as Country That Deserves ‘Gratitude and Respect’ as Some Question Coronavirus Transparency’ (Newsweek, 29 January 2020) <https://www.newsweek.com/who-praises-china-country-that-deserves-gratitude-respect-some-question-coronavirus-1484716> as accessed 14 May 2020. [10] James Griffiths, ‘Taiwan’s Coronavirus Response is Among the Best Globally’ (CNN, 5 April 2020) <https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/04/asia/taiwan-coronavirus-response-who-intl-hnk/index.html> as accessed 14 May 2020. [11] Annabelle Timsit, ‘The China-Taiwan Conflict is Disrupting the WHO’s Fight Against Covid-19’ (Quartz, 9 April 2020) <https://qz.com/1831093/taiwan-china-conflict-is-disrupting-whos-fight-against-covid-19/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [12] Michael Collins, ‘The WHO and China: Dereliction of Duty’ (Council on Foreign Relations, 27 February 2020) <https://www.cfr.org/blog/who-and-china-dereliction-duty> as accessed 14 May 2020. [13] Ankit Panda, ‘China Takes Aim at Calls for Taiwanese Membership of WHO in India’ (The Diplomat, 7 April 2020) <https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/china-takes-aim-at-calls-for-taiwanese-membership-of-who-in-india/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [14] Yu-Jie Chen and Jerome A. Cohen, ‘Why Does the WHO Exclude Taiwan?’ (Council on Foreign Relations, 9 April 2020) <https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/why-does-who-exclude-taiwan> as accessed 14 May 2020. [15] Adam Kamradt-Scott, ‘Explainer: What Donald Trump’s Funding Cuts to WHO Mean for the World’ (The Conversation, 15 April 2020) <https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-donald-trumps-funding-cuts-to-who-mean-for-the-world-136384> as accessed 14 May 2020. [16] Dana Milbank, ‘Trump is Exhibiting all the Symptoms of a Hydroxychloroquine Overdose’ (The Washington Post, 25 April 2020) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/24/trump-wants-us-inject-bleach-he-must-have-odd-hydroxychloroquine/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [17] Barbara Plett Usher, ‘Coronavirus: Why Some US Churches are Still Open This Easter’ (BBC, 10 April 2020) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52232384> as accessed 14 May 2020. [18] Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, and Ashley Parker, ‘Trump Wants to Declare Country Open by May 1 – But The Reality Will Be Much Slower’ (The Washington Post, 15 April 2020) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-wants-to-declare-country-open-by-may-1--but-the-reality-will-be-much-slower/2020/04/14/42f7a318-7e5e-11ea-a3ee-13e1ae0a3571_story.html> as accessed 14 May 2020. [19] Garrett M. Graff, ‘An Oral History of the Pandemic Warnings Trump Ignored’ (Wired, 17 April 2020) <https://www.wired.com/story/an-oral-history-of-the-pandemic-warnings-trump-ignored/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [20] Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, ‘Trump’s Allies know he Has Failed’ (The Atlantic, 7 April 2020) <https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/impeachment-covid-19/609574/> as accessed 14 May 2020. [21] Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs, ‘China Concealed extent of Virus Outbreak, U.S. Intelligence Says (Bloomberg, 2 April 2020) <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-01/china-concealed-extent-of-virus-outbreak-u-s-intelligence-says> as accessed 14 May 2020. [22] ‘New Zealand Backs Taiwan Joining the WHO Despite China Rebuke’ (The Guardian, 12 May 2020) < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/12/new-zealand-backs-taiwan-joining-the-who-despite-china-rebuke> as accessed 14 May 2020.

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