Opinion

On Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization

China needs to stop playing politics and allow Taiwan to be part of the World Health Organization so there is a safer coordinated international response.

Garnett Genuis Sherwood Park, Alberta
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Garnett Genuis is the Conservative MP representing Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta.

On New Year’s Eve last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) was made aware of several peculiar cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, a city in the landlocked Chinese province of Hubei. One week later, it was confirmed that what Chinese authorities had identified was in fact a new virus. The new virus, now widely referred to simply as the coronavirus, is a novel strain of a large family of viruses known collectively as coronaviruses.

Today, it is believed that there are more than 4,500 cases of the novel coronavirus, the vast majority of which are in China’s Hubei province. But the problem is not one for the people of Hubei province to face alone. There are also confirmed cases throughout Asia, and even across the world. To date, cases of the coronavirus have been identified in countries as far away as Australia, France, the United States, and as of last week, even Canada.

Although the WHO has not yet declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, as the number of cases continues to increase rapidly, and as the death toll increases each day, it is without a doubt a looming threat against which governments and citizens alike must remain vigilant.

For the people of Taiwan, this threat is an especially concerning one for many reasons. The most obvious of such concerns is Taiwan’s geographical proximity to the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The small island country is located just off the eastern coast of mainland China. As a result, more than one million of its citizens either work or live on the mainland. Many are also believed to have traveled to and from China for the recent Lunar New Year holiday.

While many nearby countries share this predicament, there is another more insidious dimension in the case of Taiwan. In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has made serious efforts to undermine Taiwan’s participation on the international stage–including in multilateral institutions like the WHO. This stems from the contentious and complex history between China and Taiwan, on the basis of which China claims Taiwan as its own territory. However, it is clear the people of Taiwan remain resolutely opposed to the authoritarianism of the Chinese communist regime–evidenced definitively by the recent reelection of President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party.

The exclusion of Taiwan from the WHO is a particularly disastrous consequence of the Communist regime’s anti-Taiwan policy. To this day, Taiwan has been barred from attending WHO meetings, including the Jan. 24 emergency meeting on the new coronavirus, due to China’s insistence that all members accept the regime’s “One China” policy. Although the decision to exclude Taiwan from such important forums has been opposed by many countries, including Australia, Japan, Germany and the United States, the Communist regime has only intensified its commitment to pressure Taiwan into acquiescence in recent years.

In a recent statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, said, “No one cares more about the health of the Taiwanese people than the Chinese Central Government.”

However, by actively pushing for the exclusion of Taiwan from global discussions about health, the Chinese regime is undercutting Taiwan’s ability to protect its citizens from the coronavirus, while simultaneously taking serious measures to bring the coronavirus under control within its own borders.

The coronavirus has already affected thousands and shows no indications of slowing down. As this is a problem with potentially disastrous global ramifications, we as Canadians must support all competent minds working together to resolve this crisis. This means supporting Taiwan’s inclusion into the discussions of the WHO and similar multilateral organizations. To do so is not only in the interest of global security, but the safety of our own Canadian citizens as well.

Unfortunately, the government of Justin Trudeau has not been sufficiently vocal in their support for Taiwan’s participation in these vital discussions, and we risk again standing apart from our allies in our acquiescence to the Chinese government. Despite multiple questions on this in Question Period from me and from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, the government refused on Monday or Tuesday of this week to even mention Taiwan or acknowledge the need for any bilateral or multilateral coordination. We should always be on the side of free democracies, but this case is particularly important because the health and safety of Canadians is at stake. A greater outbreak in Taiwan would significantly elevate the risk of transmission throughout the world.

Canada’s government did express some support for Taiwanese engagement in response to a question on Wednesday, but their reluctance to do so earlier does not give much confidence in their real commitment to working on this vital issue. When it comes to the international response to the coronavirus, there is an urgent need for the government of Canada to put health and safety ahead of politics, and actively work to bring about the full inclusion of Taiwan in an internationally coordinated response.

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