TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Taiwan and the United States this week discussed how to get “closer coordination” between the island and the World Health Organization (WHO) during the coronavirus outbreak, drawing a rebuke from China for “political manipulation” of the epidemic.
Taiwan’s is excluded from the WHO due to diplomatic pressure from China, which considers it merely a wayward province with no right to the trappings of state.
Its omission has become a major source of anger for the Taiwan, which says it has been unable to get first hand information from the WHO, putting lives on the island in danger for the sake of politics. Both the WHO and China say Taiwan has been given the help it needs.
The U.S. State Department said on Thursday senior officials from the United States and Taiwan on Tuesday held a “virtual forum on expanding Taiwan’s participation on the global stage”, with particular focus on the WHO and how to share Taiwan’s successful model of fighting the coronavirus.
“Participants also discussed ongoing efforts to reinstate Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly, as well as other avenues for closer coordination between Taiwan and the World Health Organization,” it said.
The World Health Assembly is the WHO’s decision-making body.
Taiwan attended it as an observer from 2009-2016 when Taipei-Beijing relations warmed, but China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who China views as a separatist, charges she denies.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed thanks to the United States on Friday for its “continued taking of concrete actions to support Taiwan’s participation in the WHO and other international organisations”.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the United States and Taiwan were both well aware that members of the WHO must be sovereign states, and accused Taiwan of seeking political capital from the outbreak.
“We hope they will not attempt to use this epidemic to engage in political manipulation,” she told a daily news briefing.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new law last month requiring increased support for Taiwan’s international role. China threatened unspecified retaliation in response.
Like most countries the United States has only unofficial ties with the island, but is its strongest backer on the world stage.
Taiwan has been far more successful than many of its neighbours keeping the virus in check thanks to early and stringent steps to control its spread. It has reported 348 cases and five deaths to date.
In its latest measure, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Friday people who don’t wear face masks on public transport would face fines of up to T$15,000 (nearly $500).
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Gabriel Crossely; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore