WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus has condemned Taiwan for allegedly driving a “racist” campaign of harassment against him and Africans in general. Tedros made his remarks following criticism over the global organization’s continued blacklisting of Taiwan at the behest of the WHO’s leading patron, China, which remains at odds with the island nation over matters of sovereignty. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, however, struck back.
Hostility between Taiwan and the WHO flared up after a Hong Kong-based journalist from RTHK interviewed the agency’s Bruce Aylward, who dodged questions about the WHO’s exclusion of Taiwan from the World Health Assembly due to heavy lobbying from China. In the interview, Aylward a senior advisor for the WHO, pretended not to hear the questions and ended the call. Chinese state officials in Hong Kong later reprimanded the journalist for “breaching the One-China principle,” which holds Taiwan as a part of China’s territory.
Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu has echoed widespread criticism of the WHO’s handling of the pandemic and highlighted the nation’s exclusion from the organization.
Taiwan, which maintains that it is rightfully independent from communist China, has remained virtually unrecognized by the United Nations, of which the WHO is a part, and is often referred to as a part of “Greater China” when referenced by organizations and governments friendly to China.
Addressing criticism from US President Donald Trump, who threatened to freeze its funding for the agency, Tedros called for a halt to “politicization” of the coronavirus pandemic and urged the United States and China to show “honest leadership.”
"The WHO really blew it," Trump said at a press conference earlier this week. "For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?"
In his address against President Trump, Tedros played the role of professional victim and brought up—unprovoked—how he had received “racist slurs,” which he alleges originated in Taiwan.
“When as a community people start to insult us, that’s enough,” he said. “We cannot tolerate that. But since I don’t have any inferiority complex when I am personally affected or attacked by racial slurs, I don’t care because I am a very proud black person.”
“This attack comes from Taiwan,” he said. “The foreign ministry knows about this campaign and they didn’t disassociate themselves.”
There is no evidence to indicate that Tedros received racist abuse, much less proof that any of it originated in Taiwan.
On early Thursday, Taiwan hit back against Tedros’ allegations and demanded an apology from the WHO Director General, referring to them as unnecessary and slanderous.
“Without having checked the facts, Tedros’s unprovoked and untrue accusations not only differ from reality, they have also seriously harmed our government and our people,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “This kind of slander is extremely irresponsible.”
The ministry’s remarks were backed up by words from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who invited him to visit the island.
“Taiwan always objects to discrimination in any form. We know how it feels to be discriminated against and isolated more than anyone else as we have been excluded from global organizations for years,” she said. “So I’d like to invite Tedros to visit Taiwan, to see how Taiwanese commit to devote to international society despite being discriminated and isolated.”
Taiwan has been remarkably successful in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and life continues relatively unhindered. The island has so far seen only 379 cases and five deaths. Taiwan can attribute its success to its widespread use of N95 face masks and other limited forms of social distancing without the need for lockdowns.