Taiwan to 'closely monitor' impact of U.S. withdrawal from WHO

05/30/2020 06:46 PM
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WHO in Geneva / CNA file photo
WHO in Geneva / CNA file photo

Taipei, May 30 (CNA) Taiwan officials said Saturday that they will closely watch the impact of the decision by United States' President Donald Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO), with Taiwan's health minister saying the move could create an opportunity for closer cooperation between the countries.

Trump announced on Friday that the U.S. is "terminating its relationship" with the WHO, accusing the body of failing to hold China responsible for its role in the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released a statement addressing the decision's impact on the country's campaign to join the global health agency, saying it had been closely following the situation since the U.S. froze funding to the WHO in April.

Taiwan has utilized various channels to understand the decision and its impact, as well as the responses of like-minded international partners, MOFA said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the immediate impact of the move will be limited, since countries are currently fighting COVID-19 on a national level.

Chen, who also heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), said at a press briefing that Taiwan will wait to hear a fuller explanation of the move, adding that the nation will in any case try to expand its cooperation with the U.S. in the future.

If the U.S. really does leave the WHO, leading to the creation of an alternative international public health body, it would be an "opportunity" and Taiwan would seek admission, Chen said.

According to Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), a Legislator from the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the impact of the United States' decision could be positive or negative for Taiwan.

On the one hand, it could put pressure on the WHO to make reforms and allow Taiwan's full participation, Lo said.

However, it could also mean that Taiwan will lose its greatest supporter within the WHO, and lose access to important public health information, which it currently relies on the U.S. and Japan for, Lo said.

Addressing speculation that the U.S. could try to form an alternative to the WHO, Lo said the biggest question is whether other countries would apply for membership.

Lee Che-chuan (李哲全), a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said the United States' withdrawal from multilateral organizations and treaties is likely to strengthen China, and said European countries won't be as vocal as the U.S. in their advocacy for Taiwan.

The move does not have much direct bearing on the WHO's exclusion of Taiwan, which is largely the product of internal agreements it has reached with China, Lee said.

Taiwan participated in the World Health Assembly (WHA) -- the WHO's policy-setting body -- as an observer from 2009-2016 under the designation "Chinese Taipei" when relations between Beijing and Taipei were good under the previous Kuomintang government, which accepted the concept that the two sides are part of one China, with each side free to interpret what that means.

Since 2017, however, Taiwan has been excluded from the United Nations-affiliated body due to opposition from China, which has objected to Taiwan's current DPP government rejecting that concept.

(By Chen Yun-yu, Chang Ming-hsuan and Matthew Mazzetta)

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