The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill seeking the restoration of Taiwan’s observer status with the World Health Organization, escalating an international campaign to push back against Chinese efforts to isolate the island.
The bipartisan measure calls on the State Department to report about Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA) — a key WHO decision-making body set to meet next week. The bill, which hasn’t yet been passed by the U.S. House, would also direct Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to explain any department plans to help Taipei reclaim its observer status.
The Senate vote Monday is part of a push by China’s critics in the U.S. and elsewhere to use the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen Taiwan’s official and unofficial diplomatic relationships. Beijing, which considers island part of its territory, has blocked its participation in the WHO since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016 and refused to accept that both belong to “one China.”
The measure’s approval comes days after Taiwan urged the WHO to allow it to rejoin the assembly, an effort Beijing has denounced as separatist. Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is sponsoring the bill.
“I applaud Secretary Pompeo for the steps he’s already taken to ensure Taiwan can attend the WHO Summit on the coronavirus pandemic later this month, and look forward to his strategy that will restore Taiwan’s observer status,” Inhofe said in a statement.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Last week, China criticized Pompeo and similar calls by New Zealand over efforts to get Taiwan back in the assembly. Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party were exploiting the issue “out of a political plot rather than concern of public health.”
While Taiwan has for decades been one of the most sensitive issues between Washington and Beijing, the issue has returned to the fore as both sides traded accusations over the COVID-19 outbreak. Taiwan’s successful handling of the virus so far, alongside global concern about China’s initial response to it, has fueled a groundswell of support for Taipei’s participation in the assembly.
Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said last week that the island needed a seat at the WHA to give it firsthand information about the pandemic’s spread.