May 14, 2020 / 9:29 AM / 11 days ago

Taiwan says WHO has 'forgotten' neutrality by barring island

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) has “forgotten” its professionalism and neutrality in locking Taiwan out of the body for political reasons, Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen attends an event to campaign for Taiwan to be recognised as a participant in the United Nations and World Health Organization, in Taipei, Taiwan March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Taiwan says China and the WHO have conspired for political purposes to keep it out of key meetings, that the WHO has not responded to requests for coronavirus information and has misreported the number of its infections.

The WHO and China have strongly dispute the accusations, saying Taiwan has been given all the help it needed, but that only China, which claims democratic Taiwan as one of its provinces, has the right to fully represent it in the WHO.

Chen, a U.S.-trained epidemiologist, said the WHO had been putting politics above health.

“Unfortunately, because of political reasons, Taiwan’s 23 million people have become orphans in the global health system,” he told reporters at the presidential office in Taipei.

“The WHO pays too much attention to politics and has forgotten their professionalism and neutrality. This is quite regrettable.”

While the WHO has done good work and contributed to world health in the past, its record on the virus has not been as good, Chen added.

“On the Wuhan pneumonia, we mostly criticise them for acting too slowly,” he said, referring to the central Chinese city where the virus first emerged late last year, before spreading worldwide to infect 4.3 million people and kill 295,000.

Chen, who was Taiwan’s health minister during the 2002-2003 SARS crisis, said the world needed to be cautious with China’s virus numbers, and urged Beijing to be more transparent.

He wished China well in its fight, however.

“Here I give my blessings to them and hope that they can contain the Wuhan pneumonia as early as possible and avoid a second wave,” said Chen, who leaves office when President Tsai Ing-wen is sworn in for her second term next week.

Taiwan has lobbied to attend next week’s meeting of the WHO’s decision-making World Health Assembly as an observer, but China objects.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Taiwan’s basis for participation in the WHO was damaged by the refusal of its ruling Democratic Progressive Party to recognise that the island is part of China.

There is no legal basis for a “non-sovereign region” to participate as an observer, Zhao added.

The United States has repeatedly clashed with China over its refusal to allow Taiwan full access to the body, helping to further fuel tension between Washington and Beijing.

Taiwan’s tally of 440 virus infections and seven deaths is far lower than many of its neighbours, thanks to early and effective prevention work and an efficient public health system.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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