(CNSNews.com) – As Taiwan grapples with the coronavirus outbreak that originated in its giant neighbor, the island democracy’s anomalous status in the international community continues to raise hurdles, and stoke frustration, for its government and citizens.
Taiwan now has 22 confirmed cases of the virus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has named COVID-19. This past weekend, it recorded its first death – one of just five of the total 1,873 deaths to have occurred outside mainland China.
The Taiwanese victim was a 61-year-old taxi driver with no recent history of travel abroad. Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen, who is an epidemiologist, said in a Facebook post the man was likely infected by a passenger, possibly a visitor from China, who had been infected but asymptomatic.
Investigations are underway. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung reported that 79 people were found so far to have come into contact with the taxi driver. Most have been tested, with one positive result, 60 negative results, and other results awaited
Taiwan’s attempts to evacuate citizens stranded in the outbreak epicenter – China’s Wuhan province – have run into hurdles, the latest problem for a nation, which at China’s insistence has also been unable to join the WHO or other U.N. agencies.
In a speech in Germany on Saturday, WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged people not to politicize the outbreak, then added, “In our fractured and divided world, health is one of the few areas in which international cooperation offers the opportunity for countries to work together for a common cause.”
“International cooperation” in the health field is the one thing that Taiwan has been calling for, long before the latest coronavirus outbreak out of China.
China’s communist government says that it does cooperate adequately with Taiwan, which it considers a rebel province.
“Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the [China] National Health Commission, attaching high importance to Taiwan compatriots’ safety and health, has kept the region informed with timely updates with a view to strengthening cross-strait response to the epidemic,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing last week.
Taiwan views the situation facing its 23 million people very differently, however.
“Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and cannot be represented by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] regime,” the Taiwanese government office responsible for relations with the mainland said in a statement earlier this month.
“The WHO is a non-political organization seeking the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. It should not serve Beijing's political will alone.”
“The CCP’s claim that proper arrangements have been made for Taiwan are inconsistent with the facts and is likely to further create gaps in global epidemic prevention and imperil public health,” it said.
‘Taiwan – and the rest of China’
At a WHO press briefing earlier this month, the executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, Michael Ryan, was asked about Taiwan’s concerns.
As he gave assurances that the WHO was cooperating with Taiwanese officials, Ryan also made clear more than once that the agency follows China’s view on the island’s status.
“We can assure you of full technical cooperation with our technical counterparts in Taiwan – and the rest of China,” he said.
In another complication for Taiwan, because governments largely adhere to Beijing’s stance that Taiwan is part of “one China,” some smaller countries that have barred entry to visitors from China in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus have included Taiwan in their ban.
Mongolia, Mauritius and Vanuatu, for example, will not allow entry to foreigners or no-residents who in recent time have visited mainland China, the Chinese administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau – or Taiwan.
Several other countries, which have more confirmed coronavirus cases than Taiwan, are not affected by such bans. Compared to Taiwan’s 22 cases, Singapore has 77 and Japan has 66, but visitors from those countries are not being barred.
In May, the WHO holds its annual World Health Assembly in Geneva. As a non-member of WHO Taiwan has never been able to take part fully in the assembly, although from 2009 to 2016 Beijing allowed it to take part as an observer – under the name “Chinese Taipei.”
After the election of President Tsai Ing-Wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 2015, the Chinese government withdrew the concession, and Taiwan was again shut out in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, lawmakers from more than a dozen European countries have written to the WHO, urging it to allow Taiwan to participate at this year’s assembly and other WHO mechanisms and programs
A White House “We the People” petition calling on the U.S. to act to support Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO has garnered more than 230,000 signatures, more than twice the number required to earn a formal response from the administration.