US lawmakers push WHO to recognize Taiwan as independent state as coronavirus outbreak continues

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U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that would work toward granting Taiwan recognition in the World Health Organization (WHO) in light of the coronavirus outbreak that has left Taiwan subject to flight bans and limited information. 

The WHO — a branch of the United Nations — has relayed communication on the virus to China, which considers Taiwan a Chinese territory with an illegitimate independent government. The island’s status as a nation is a matter of international disagreement: the U.S., Japan, Canada and the European Union all recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, while the UN and Chinese allies consider Taiwan a province of China. 

Taiwanese officials claim they have received little information on the virus from WHO while also struggling to communicate with Chinese officials as they attempted to evacuate Taiwanese citizens from Wuhan, where the virus originated. Taiwan has 10 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and on Monday night quarantined 247 people repatriated to the island after being stranded in Wuhan.

According to Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu, flights to Taiwan from Vietnam and Italy were canceled last week based on information that grouped Taiwan as part of China. Flights from Vietnam were restored, but Taiwan is still “working through all diplomatic channels” to restore flights from Italy. 

Wu argues that the WHO’s choice to exclude Taiwan from the organization puts the health of Taiwanese citizens at risk. 

“While we are still going through our own channels and through like-minded friends to reason with the WHO to right its wrong, I would like to publicly call upon the WHO to recognize the simple fact that Taiwan is Taiwan and it is not part of the [People’s Republic of China],” Wu told press on Sunday. “Taiwan is not under China’s jurisdiction; Taiwan’s and China’s health are administered by separate and independent health authorities, and Taiwan’s and China’s flight information regions are administered by separate and independent civil aviation administrations.”

“This is such a simple reality that the WHO should never have missed it,” he continued. “Again, I call upon the WHO to correct its gross mistake.”

Taiwan was recognized by the WHO under the name “Chinese Taipei” from 1997 to 2016, when pro-sovereignty Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took power, leading China to pressure the UN to subject Taiwan to the “one China principle.” The coronavirus outbreak comes less than a month after Taiwan reelected Tsai by a large marginsending a message to mainland China about where the Taiwanese electorate stands on the issue of sovereignty. 

Last month Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) introduced legislation that would direct the State Department to develop a strategy that would give Taiwan recognition in the WHO. The bill passed the House unanimously and is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

“Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO puts the world at risk,” Yoho wrote in an op-ed in the Taipei Times. “That is why I have called for the re-establishment of Taiwan’s observer status on numerous occasions.”

Last week, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote a letter to the State Department asking it to push for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO. Days later, seven GOP senators — several of whom are also members of the Foreign Relations Committee — penned a letter to the WHO asking them to recognize Taiwan as an independent state. 

“The relationship between the United States and Taiwan is a partnership between two vibrant democracies based on shared values and vision,” wrote Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner in which he argued for U.S. assistance to Taiwan in trade and defense. 

The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Tags Coronavirus Cory Gardner Ed Markey Marco Rubio Taiwan Taiwan independence movement Ted Yoho World Health Organization

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