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HomeInsightsTaiwan’s inclusion in the World Health Assembly: A necessity for global health

Taiwan’s inclusion in the World Health Assembly: A necessity for global health

By Y. Tony Yang

The issue surrounding Taiwan’s inclusion in global institutions is not a new one, but it has remained deeply contentious and complicated, largely due to longstanding geopolitical tensions. China’s assertion that Taiwan is an inalienable part of its sovereign domain has shaped the narrative and decision-making processes in many international forums.

Nevertheless, when the sphere of discussion shifts to global health and wellness, the stakes are immeasurably higher. It is during such critical junctures – like the ones created by global health crises and pandemics – that the debate surrounding Taiwan’s representation acquires a heightened sense of immediacy. To exclude Taiwan from the World Health Assembly (WHA), the central deliberative policy-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO),  goes beyond mere political manoeuvring. It’s a significant oversight that, given the interconnected nature of today’s world, could lead to blind spots in global public health responses.

This debate became even more pronounced in 2023, as Taiwan’s aspiration to be a part of the WHA was, once again, met with refusal. The undercurrents of this denial are not hard to discern: China’s consistent and unyielding diplomatic efforts to marginalize Taiwan on the world stage. The rationale behind this pressure is China’s adamant belief in Taiwan being a constituent part of its territorial expanse. But what this situation glaringly reveals is the sometimes dangerous collision between political considerations and the pressing needs of global health initiatives.

This ongoing tug-of-war between geopolitical interests and public health imperatives is both disheartening and concerning. On one hand, we have the genuine health and welfare needs of Taiwan’s population – and, by extension, the international community’s health security. On the other hand, there is the shadow of political posturing and the use of international bodies as arenas for power plays. When health emergencies, like pandemics, do not recognize boundaries or political affiliations, the sidelining of any nation – let alone one with a track record like that of Taiwan – can be a detriment to comprehensive global health strategies.

The recurrent denial of Taiwan’s participation illuminates a broader, more pressing concern: Can the world truly afford to let political agendas override the universal and shared goal of public health? As we navigate the intricate dynamics of international relations, it’s crucial to remember that health and wellness should transcend politics. The global community stands to benefit when all nations, irrespective of political complexities, come together in a united front against shared health challenges.

The global health perspective

In examining global health through an unbiased lens, Taiwan’s consistent absence from the WHA undoubtedly comes across as perplexing and illogical. Taiwan not only boasts an impressive healthcare system equipped with advanced technology and modern infrastructure, but has also demonstrated exceptional capability in navigating health crises.

The manner in which Taiwan adeptly managed and contained the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a testament to its commitment to public health and the well-being of its citizens. Its proven track record in health initiatives, from early detection to effective treatment, makes it an exemplary figure in public health management. Thus, it becomes increasingly confounding as to why an entity that has showcased such remarkable proficiency in health and medical domains remains excluded from a platform as crucial as the WHA. In times of global crises, unity and collaboration among nations are pivotal. We are living in a period where the global community’s collective efforts, seamless exchange of knowledge, and unerring support to each other in the domain of healthcare are more critical than ever.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry, in expressing its dismay over the WHA’s exclusionary decision, was voicing more than just national sentiments. The resonance of its disappointment and concern is felt far beyond Taiwan’s borders, speaking to a universal truth about the importance of inclusive global health strategies. It is not just about the representation of Taiwan’s 23.6 million citizens on a global platform; it’s a broader reflection of the principles that ought to guide international health policy-making and collaboration.

Their pointed and valid critiques of China’s recurrent efforts to politicize Taiwan’s role in international health forums represents more than a bilateral dispute. It underlines a sentiment that many in the global community share: that the whims and strategies of political maneuverings should never be allowed to eclipse or jeopardize the fundamental objectives of ensuring worldwide public health.

Moreover, sidelining Taiwan, which has invaluable insights and experiences to share – especially regarding its laudable response to the pandemic – deprives the global community of vital knowledge. When the aim is the betterment of global health, every nation’s experiences, strategies, and insights should be pooled together for the collective good. And to this end, political considerations should be set aside in favour of prioritizing the larger, more pressing goals of public health, safety, and well-being.

A historical flashpoint

At the core of this enduring and highly charged debate is the complex matter of Taiwan’s sovereignty, a subject that has been a thorn in the side of international diplomacy for many decades. Beijing’s position on Taiwan has remained unyielding and consistent: it regards the island not as an independent nation, but as a wayward province that broke away and, in its eyes, needs to be reunified with the mainland. This perspective has effectively marginalized Taiwan, leading to its exclusion from a plethora of international assemblies and organizations. Among these exclusions, the one from the WHO emerges as a particularly poignant oversight given the critical nature of global health matters.

By contrast, Taipei, the capital and seat of Taiwan’s government, has consistently vocalized its concerns over this ostracization. It maintains that being sidelined from essential international platforms like the WHO hampers its capacity to respond effectively to significant health challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a stark reminder of these challenges – wherein Taiwan, despite its commendable efforts in managing the crisis, felt the brunt of this exclusion in terms of access to timely information and resources. While Beijing often counters such arguments with promises of “proper arrangements” to ensure Taiwan’s inclusion in global health endeavors, the reality that Taiwan faces often paints a different picture.

This disparity between Beijing’s public assurances and Taiwan’s real-world experiences not only deepens the chasm between the two entities, but also raises pressing questions about the intersection of politics and public health on the world stage. How can political agendas and deeply rooted historical disputes continue to influence decisions that have ramifications for millions of lives? As the world grapples with unprecedented health challenges, the need for inclusivity and collaborative action becomes ever more pronounced, making the Taiwan issue not just a regional concern but a matter of global significance.

A groundswell of support

It is of paramount importance to highlight that the clamor for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHA is not a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. A significant number of the WHO’s member nations -13 to be exact – have echoed this shared sentiment, and have supported Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the Assembly. This substantial number is not a minor detail, but a testament to the international acknowledgment of Taiwan’s potential contributions. Yet, the glaring absence of this weighty proposal from the official agenda underscores the profound layers of political intrigue and manoeuvring that overshadow global health decisions.

The chorus of support for Taiwan doesn’t stop at these 13 nations. It is bolstered by affirmations from some of the world’s most influential nations, ringing clear and loud. Both the United States and Britain, who wield significant clout in international diplomacy, have been unequivocal in their stance. Their disagreement with Taiwan’s sidelining is not couched in diplomatic jargon, but expressed with straightforward clarity. The voices of notable figures like Loyce Pace, the US representative to the assembly, and Sajid Javid, the British health minister, add gravitas to this stance.

Both of them, representing their respective nations, underscore a widely felt bewilderment: Why is Taiwan, with its commendable health milestones and undeniable successes – especially in times of global crises – being kept at arm’s length from the WHA? This paradox seems even more perplexing when juxtaposed with Taiwan’s laudable track record in health initiatives, underscoring a broader disconnect between political agendas and global health imperatives.

The irony of the assembly’s agenda

Amidst the intricate web of politics and global health discussions, an element of irony emerges starkly in this discourse. The WHA’s assembly for 2023 – which saw enthusiastic participation from a vast array of nations, and was further underscored by the substantial presence of a delegation from China – aimed to address monumental reforms. At the forefront of these reforms was a crucial agenda item: the possible revamping of the WHO’s funding mechanisms. Such a monumental discussion point is of undeniable significance to the global health landscape.

However, what adds a twist to this narrative is the conspicuous absence of Taiwan, which has consistently showcased its commitment and prowess in healthcare. As an influential stakeholder in the realm of public health, its exclusion from such pivotal discussions presents a glaring oversight. The omission of Taiwan’s voice, particularly when such foundational matters are on the table, inevitably sparks a cascade of concerns. It makes observers and stakeholders alike wonder about the true depth, breadth, and inclusivity of the discussions and the eventual outcomes. Can the decisions truly be holistic and reflective of global needs when a key player like Taiwan is left out of the conversation? This underlying question, prompted by Taiwan’s absence, further accentuates the tension between political considerations and the genuine pursuit of global health objectives.       

Reimagining global health collaborations

Undoubtedly, the nuanced relationship between China and Taiwan is intricately woven into the tapestry of global politics, with China’s stance on Taiwan’s participation in international forums like the WHA being a testament to the larger Beijing-Taipei dynamics. However, when discussing the core tenets and foundational principles of global organizations, particularly those such as the WHO, it becomes crucial to rise above the fray of political chess games and focus on the larger mission at hand.

At its heart, the WHO was conceived with the overarching vision of promoting global health, acting as a beacon of guidance, support, and collaboration for all nations. This mission, which centers on the commitment to ensure “the highest possible level of health” for every individual, necessitates a truly inclusive approach that transcends political boundaries and differences. If the WHO remains unwaveringly true to this objective, then the need to bring every stakeholder to the table, no matter the political intricacies and sensitivities at play, becomes an unequivocal imperative.

Moreover, sidelining Taiwan not only risks potential blind spots in global health strategies but also undermines the very essence of what organizations like the WHO aim to achieve. In a world where health challenges know no borders, the inclusivity of all players, irrespective of geopolitical posturing, should be the cornerstone of any genuine effort to advance global health.

Conclusion

In analyzing global health politics, it is evident that the challenges are vast and complex. Overcoming them demands unified, unbiased efforts, transcending political or territorial divides. True public health knows no boundaries and must not be bogged down by bureaucracy or geopolitical disputes. Global well-being mandates a harmonized, dedicated approach. Taiwan’s impressive public health achievements highlight its potential contributions. However, exclusion from platforms like the WHA not only limits Taiwan, but also withholds pivotal expertise from global initiatives. In our closely-knit world, where health threats can swiftly span continents, it is essential to incorporate voices like Taiwan’s into global health discussions. Ultimately, inclusivity is not just beneficial for global health – it is its very cornerstone.

The main point: The exclusion of Taiwan from the World Health Assembly (WHA) has raised concerns over the intersection of geopolitics and global health imperatives. Taiwan’s commendable health infrastructure and effective handling of crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight the paradox of its absence from critical international health discussions which are largely due to China’s territorial claims over the island. For global health strategies to be truly effective, the international community must prioritize health over politics, ensuring that key contributors like Taiwan are recognized and included in these discussions.

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