Taiwanese officials on Thursday strongly denied allegations from World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that it was linked to a racist smear campaign against him.
Tedros, a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister who is the WHO’s first African head, said at a Wednesday press briefing in Geneva that Taiwan’s foreign ministry was responsible for threats and racist abuse he has received in recent months.
“This attack came from Taiwan,” Tedros said Wednesday, claiming the country’s diplomats had been aware of the attacks and failed to dissociate themselves from them, according to The Associated Press. “They even started criticizing me in the middle of all those insults and slurs. I say it today because it’s enough."
In a statement, the Taiwanese foreign ministry registered “strong dissatisfaction and a high degree of regret” with the comment, calling on Tedros to “immediately correct his unfounded allegations, immediately clarify, and apologize to our country.”
President Tsai Ing-wen said in a statement on Facebook that Taiwan does not condone racist attacks while also criticizing the WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan in response to demands from China, which considers the island a breakaway province.
“If Director-General Tedros could withstand pressure from China and come to Taiwan to see Taiwan’s efforts to fight COVID-19 for himself, he would be able to see that the Taiwanese people are the true victims of unfair treatment,” she wrote. “I believe that the WHO will only truly be complete if Taiwan is included.”
Tedros has been a vocal backer of the Chinese government’s claims to have transparently handled the coronavirus outbreak, believed to have originated in a wet market in Hubei province. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday did not comment on Tedros’s allegations but said that China hoped that Taiwanese authorities "will not politicize the epidemic situation or engage in political manipulation.”
Taiwan, while barred from the United Nations and stripped of observer status at the WHO’s World Health Assembly, has had one of the least deadly outbreaks of COVID-19, with 379 reported cases and five confirmed deaths, according to the AP.