Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has hit out at accusations from the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the democratic island’s government had instigated “racist attacks” in the international community.
“I strongly protest the accusations today that Taiwan is instigating racist attacks in the international community,” Tsai said in a statement.
“Taiwan has always opposed all forms of discrimination. For years, we have been excluded from international organizations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated,” said Tsai, who has repeatedly been ignored by the WHO after calling for membership of the U.N. health agency.
Taiwan, which has never formed part of the People’s Republic of China nor been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, has nevertheless been denied membership in international organizations under huge diplomatic pressure from Beijing, which claims the island as part of its territory.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that he had been personally attacked, had suffered racist abuse and had even received death threats.
“This attack came from Taiwan,” said the WHO chief, who is a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister and the organization’s first African leader.
Taiwanese diplomats were aware of the attacks but did not dissociate themselves from them, Tedros alleged.
“They even started criticizing me in the middle of all those insults and slurs,” Tedros added. “I say it today because it’s enough.”
However, he gave no specific examples of the attacks, nor of any link to Taiwan, where the authorities are waging an ongoing battle against online disinformation by Beijing’s supporters that long predates the coronavirus pandemic.
Invitation to visit Taiwan
Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said Taiwan’s government, which is a sovereign state dating back to the 1911 Republic of China founded by Sun Yat-sen, regretted that Tedros had been the target of racist attacks.
“We also know what that feels like in Taiwan,” Ou said. But she called on him to retract his claim that the foreign ministry had been linked to that abuse in any way.
“Dr. Tedros’ unproven and inaccurate allegations against Taiwan, with no attempt at verification, are not only inconsistent with the facts, but also cause serious harm to our government and people,” Ou told a news briefing in Taipei on Thursday. “Such defamation is extremely irresponsible.”
“Our government Director-General Tedros to correct these unfounded allegations, clarify immediately, and apologize to our country,” she said.
“We call on Director-General Tedros to abandon political prejudice, return to a neutral and professional position, invite Taiwan to fully participate in all meetings and mechanisms to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, and resume its invitation to Taiwan to participate in the WHO with observer status,” she said.
Tsai, meanwhile, called on Tedros to visit Taiwan.
“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,” said Tsai, who was re-elected on a landslide last November amid growing threats from Beijing over possible military action to annex the island.
“We have never let our inability to join international organizations lessen our support for the international community,” Tsai said.
Tedros’ allegations came after U.S. President Trump said the WHO was “China-centric,” and suggested that the U.S. would consider withdrawing funding from the agency.
US funding cut threats
Trump said the WHO “got it wrong” in their handling of the coronavirus epidemic.
“They also minimized the threat very strongly,” he said on Wednesday.
WHO Europe regional director Hans Kluge responded that “this is not the time to cut back on funding.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed later Wednesday that the U.S. was reevaluating its WHO funding, saying that “it hasn’t accomplished what it was intended to deliver.”
The chair of the African Union’s commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted the support of the African Union for the WHO and Tedros, but U.S. Senator Marco Rubio called for Tedros to resign.
“Unfortunately, it has been politicized … I have deep concerns about it,” Rubio, a Beijing critic and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), told Fox News.
Yen Chen-shen of the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan’s Cheng-chi University said any attempt to unseat Tedros at the WHO will likely fail.
“There are more than 50 countries in Africa, and the African members will support him … in addition, he may also win support from Middle Eastern countries,” Yen said. “Basically, he won’t be replaced unless China were to be dissatisfied with him.”
“[Many developing countries] have received many benefits from China, so they will support China in international organizations,” Yen said. “But the U.S., and especially Trump, is pursuing a policy of unilateralism, and he is unwilling form alliances or work within the international system.”
“That effectively leaves a vacuum which can be filled in these organizations by China.”
Zhuang Jiaying of the National University of Singapore agreed.
“The Obama administration attached great importance to the United Nations, but the Trump administration is not the same, and basically despises the U.N,” Zhuang said. “So they may not be very active in promoting their candidates or canvassing for votes.”
He said even if there was a recall and a new election for a WHO leader, there would be little advantage to the U.S.
Reported by Cai Ling, Chung Kuang-cheng, Gao Feng and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.