Taiwan’s has condemned what it described as “groundless” accusations from the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) that racist slurs against him had come from the island, amid deteriorating relations with the UN’s health agency.
In a statement on Thursday, the territory’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction and a high degree of regret, and raised the most solemn protest”. Taiwan is a “mature, highly sophisticated nation and could never instigate personal attacks on the director-general of the WHO, much less express racist sentiments,” it added.
Taiwan’s 23 million people have themselves been “severely discriminated against” by the politics of the international health system and “condemn all forms of discrimination and injustice,” the statement said.
Taipei has been barred from the United Nations and the WHO, due to pressure from China which claims the island as its own and even stripped of its observer status at the annual World Health Assembly.
On Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accused Taiwan’s foreign ministry of being linked to a months-long campaign against him amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At a press briefing, Tedros said that since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, he has been personally attacked, including receiving at times, death threats and racist abuse.
“This attack came from Taiwan,” said Tedros, who is a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister and the WHO’s first African leader.
He said Taiwanese diplomats were aware of the attacks but did not dissociate themselves from them. “They even started criticising me in the middle of all those insults and slurs,” Tedros said. “I say it today because it’s enough.”
The accusations were “groundless” and “imaginary”, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said, calling on Tedros to apologise for his “irresponsible” comments.
Taiwan condemns any form of discrimination and any attacks on the internet against the WHO’s boss have nothing to do with Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry nor have been instigated by it, the ministry added.
Taipei has been proud of its early and so far effective measures against the coronavirus, logging just 379 cases and five deaths to date, far lower than many of its neighbours.
Taiwan has never been ruled by China’s Communist Party, but Beijing claims the island and has long blocked it from the UN and membership of its agencies.
Taiwan says the WHO ignored its questions at the start of the coronavirus outbreak and has not shared with member states information Taiwan provided on the coronavirus, including details on its cases and prevention methods.
The Geneva-based agency has been in a difficult position regarding Taiwan for some time and its staff have faced uncomfortable questions about the matter that have become more pointed in recent weeks. Confronted with them, the organisation released a statement last week saying that it was taking into account Taiwan’s contributions to the virus fight.
“The question of Taiwanese membership in WHO is up to WHO Member States, not WHO staff,” it said.
Meanwhile, in the United States, President Donald Trump’s administration has seized the opportunity of the coronavirus pandemic to boost Taiwan’s status in the international arena.
The State Department announced last week it had convened a virtual conference to promote “expanding Taiwan’s participation on the global stage”. Just days before, on March 26, the White House announced that Trump signed a law requiring the US to press for Taiwanese recognition in international forums and to take unspecified action against countries that “undermine the security or prosperity of Taiwan”.
China has made clear its displeasure, noting “the frequent exchanges between the US and Taiwan in the recent days” and ridiculing Washington’s praise of Taipei.
“It seems that the US standard is not that high since Taiwan has donated two million masks and then becomes a model of democracy and a true friend of the US,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last Friday.
“In the current extraordinary period, mutual assistance and support are all welcomed. But I still want to remind the US and Taiwan that if someone tries to take advantage of the epidemic to impair China ‘s core interests, they must be cautious.”