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Yoichi Shimada

【#766】U.S. Return to WHO Should Have Been Conditioned on Taiwan’s Invitation

Yoichi Shimada / 2021.02.24 (Wed)

February 22, 2021


The U.S. Biden administration has decided to return to the World Health Organization as well anticipated. But its failure to condition the return to the WHO on Taiwan’s participation in the annual World Health Assembly is a matter of strong concern.

On July 6 last year, the then Trump administration announced that the United States would secede from the WHO in one year to put an end to relations with the organization, claiming that it was dominated by China, it failed to fulfill its responsibilities, and it demonstrated no willingness to reform itself. At the same time, the Trump administration noted that the planned contributions to the WHO would be used for other urgent international health programs worthy of funding.

Biden ignoring the WHO’s cozy relationship with China

U.S. conservatives strongly supported the Trump administration’s decision. Rather, the decision followed an initiative by Congressional conservatives. Since last spring, Republican Senators Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz took the initiative in insisting that Taiwan’s participation in the WHA and the dismissal of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus known for his cozy relationship with China should be conditioned on U.S. contributions to the WHO. The Trump administration decided to exit from the WHO because the organization’s leadership ignored such insistence.

Then, on November 20, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the WHO’s Tedros. It was signed by Democrats Sherrod Brown, Ed Markey, and Jeff Merkley, as well as by Republicans Rubio and Cruz.

The letter noted that Taiwan had failed to receive the WHO’s invitation to the annual assembly since Tedros’s assumption of the director-general post in summer 2017 after participating in the annual assembly for eight consecutive years. It also said that Taiwan was the most successful in fighting against the Wuhan virus and provided medical assistance to others. In criticizing the WHO harshly, the letter said: “Despite its indisputable accomplishments and contributions to global health, the WHO continues to exclude Taiwan from the World Health Assembly due to pressure from Beijing. This places the political agenda of a single member over the health of the global community.”

The letter further said, “It is clear that Beijing has gotten the WHO to exploit its ‘one-China’ policy to justify shutting out a democratic Taiwan from contributing to the response to this pandemic and other shared public health challenges.”

Biden is being tested

The points made in the letter are right. Any international organization fails to make progress in its reform unless the U.S. takes advantage of its position of the largest contributor to the organization to demand the reform. Japan should have joined the Trump administration to freeze contributions to the WHO and provide separate aid to developing countries until the WHO invites Taiwan to the annual assembly.

If the Biden administration’s promise to give priority to international cooperation and international organizations means to tolerate Beijing’s attempt to exclude Taiwan in any way, it would run counter to the needs of the times to fight against dictatorship. The pandemic originating from Wuhan is still rampant. How and whether will the Biden administration move to allow Taiwan to participate in the next WHA? This is an important question to test administration’s attitude towards China.

Yoichi Shimada is a senior fellow and Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and a professor at Fukui Prefectural University.