TAIPEI/GENEVA – The United States and China clashed Thursday over the issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from World Health Organization meetings, where it is represented by China, with Beijing accusing Washington of political “hype-up.”
Earlier on Thursday, Taiwan accused China of providing WHO with wrong information about the number of coronavirus cases on the island, after WHO published incorrect case numbers earlier this week.
Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told WHO’s executive board in Geneva that the agency should deal directly with Taiwan authorities.
“It is a technical imperative that WHO present visible public health data on Taiwan as an affected area and engage directly with Taiwan public health authorities on actions,” he said.
Japan appeared to support this. Ambassador Ken Okaniwa told the forum, “We should not make a geographical vacuum by creating a situation where a specific region cannot join WHO even as an observer.”
China responded sharply, with China’s delegate saying there is ample cooperation between China and Taiwan on the virus epidemic and “we feel that the Chinese central government can say it is very sincere in protecting the health and well-being of Taiwan compatriots.”
“I would like to reiterate that Taiwan is part of China, this fact cannot be changed,” added the delegate, Qi Daihai.
Taiwan is not a WHO member because China, which views the island as a wayward Chinese province and not a country, says it adequately represents Taiwan in the organization.
Democratically governed Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China — its formal name — and has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
“China requests that the relevant countries should respect the guidance of the chairman to strictly abide by the rules of procedure of the conference,” Qi told the Geneva forum. “And stop hyping-up about the so-called Taiwan issue. Don’t waste our time.”
On Tuesday, WHO corrected the number of cases reported on the island after having said there were 13. At the time Taiwan had only 10. Taiwan said Thursday there were now 16 cases.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told a news conference that the crux of the problem was China giving the wrong case number details to WHO.
“This was wrong information that was provided by China which created the mistake,” she said. “We beseech the WHO not to put Taiwan’s information under China, creating mistake after mistake after mistake.”
Taiwan says the main consequence of that so far has been Italy including Taiwan in its ban on flights from China.
China’s foreign ministry, in a faxed statement, said the case numbers it reported to WHO for Taiwan all came from Taiwan’s government.
“If there are mistakes, this is the relevant authorities in the Taiwan region deliberately reporting mistakes to us,” it said.
WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the figures.
Taiwan and China are also embroiled in a new dispute over the fate of Taiwanese stranded in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, after Taiwan said a citizen sent back on the first flight was infected with the disease.
Only one flight from China has evacuated 247 of the estimated 500 Taiwanese caught up in China’s preventative lockdown of Wuhan.
Beijing has permitted countries from the United States to Japan to send flights to Wuhan to collect their citizens, but Taiwan and China have been unable to agree on more flights evacuate Taiwanese.
Taiwan’s China policymaking Mainland Affairs Council said the first flight back, on Monday, had one passenger confirmed to be infected with the virus and three others who had fevers.
All the passengers are now in quarantine in Taiwan.
The presence of the sick passenger “created a tear in virus prevention,” the council said in a statement.
“This also caused an overlap infection risk for the people on the same flight, and if there are even more infected people caused by this then the serious consequences don’t bear thinking about.”
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, speaking at Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, said China had not prioritized more vulnerable groups — which Taiwan says includes the elderly, children and others — on the first flight back despite an agreement with China that they would.
“Our fellow countrymen in Wuhan are our compatriots, and we hope to provide the best care to them,” she said. “We have no political considerations.”
China says Taiwan should not be putting up obstacles to evacuate the Taiwanese, and further planned evacuation flights this week had been put off because Taipei blocked them.
“Some people in Taiwan had been bad-mouthing arrangements for the homecoming of Taiwan compatriots, which has fully exposed the vile nature of their ignoring of the Taiwan compatriots’ interests,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said late Thursday.
Taiwan should stop its “political games” and let the flights resume, it added.