Taiwan scrambles diplomats to keep flights going amid China virus inclusion

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan is asking its diplomats to talk to governments where Taiwanese airlines fly to ensure more flights are not cut off due to the island’s inclusion by the World Health Organization as part of China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Taiwan has only reported 10 cases, compared to more than 14,000 in China, but as the WHO considers self-ruled Taiwan part of China, it has included it in its advice that China is “very high risk”.

Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to Chinese objections. China considers democratic Taiwan its own territory with no right to participate in international organizations unless it acknowledges it is part of China, something Taiwan’s government has refused to do.

Italy last week ordered all flights between the country and China to be stopped based on the WHO categorization, including Taiwan’s China Airlines, the only Taiwanese airline to fly between the island and Italy.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Sunday they are asking their diplomats around the world in places where Taiwan airlines fly to explain that what the WHO is doing to include the island as part of China is wrong and should not be allowed to affect flights.

“Taiwan is Taiwan. Taiwan is not a part of the People’s Republic of China,” he told reporters in Taipei, adding they had totally separate health and airline management systems.

“This simple reality the WHO should not get wrong.”

No other place aside from China has seen flights restricted and it is not fair to include Taiwan as part of the China restrictions, Wu added.

Johnson Chiang, the head of Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry’s Europe department, said they had told the Italian government on Friday their ban on Taiwan flights was not based on science.

“We think this decision is incorrect,” he said.

The WHO has put Taiwan under China which has misled Italy’s health department, Chiang added.

Taiwan managed within a few hours to get Vietnam to lift its ban on flights to Taiwan, as the Southeast Asian country had likewise included the island in its ban on flights from China.

Taiwan has called on the WHO to grant it access to ensure it gets the most up-to-day virus information. The WHO says Taiwan is getting the information it needs, though has not been permitted to attend emergency meetings.

(This story was refiled to correct typo in headline, missing word in first paragraph)

Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.