Coronavirus: Taiwan push for World Health Assembly to strain China relations
Australia is throwing its support behind the participation of Taiwan as an observer at the upcoming World Health Assembly meeting that will discuss the urgent global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move will further test the already strained relationship with Beijing, after it responded to Scott Morrison’s push for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan with threats of a Chinese consumer boycott on students and tourists visiting Australia.
The Australian can also reveal the government is facing a request from the US and Japan to sign up to a letter formally requesting that the World Health Organisation invite Taiwan to participate.
It is understood Washington and Tokyo are circulating a draft letter to international partners asking WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to allow a Taiwanese delegation to join the virtual meeting of the global health organisation’s key decision-making body on May 18.
While the government has not confirmed whether it will sign up to the letter — which risks an international showdown with China — the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement to The Australian revealing that the government was supporting Taiwan’s involvement.
“Australia has actively supported Taiwan’s involvement in the World Health Organisation for some time,’’ it said.
“Consistent with this longstanding position, Australia supports Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the upcoming World Health Assembly meeting. The challenge of COVID-19 demands a determined, global response. All health authorities, including those of Taiwan who responded so effectively to the outbreak, have a contribution to make.”
A group of Liberal MPs and the nation’s leading national security think tank have urged the government to support Taiwanese involvement in the WHA meeting, with Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings saying it was time for the Prime Minister to take a stand.
“Australia has taken a really hardline approach to the One China policy over decades and the effect of that is to squeeze Taiwan out of many international relationships,” he said.
“I think that’s been a fundamental mistake. It means that we’ve essentially … not built meaningful connections with a liberal democracy of 25 million people. So I think that we need to scrap that policy approach. I’m not saying abandon the One China policy, but we need to have realistic and meaningful connections with a fellow democracy. Of course Taiwan should be in the WHO.”
The debate over Taiwan comes after Mr Morrison notified G20 leaders that Australia would be supporting the EU-sponsored draft resolution on the COVID-19 response at the WHA meeting.
The chairman of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, told The Australian the government should make a strong case for Taiwan to be included in the May 18 meeting, given Taipei’s success in suppressing the virus. “Taiwan has been one of the more successful democracies in suppressing COVID-19,” he said. “We want as much expertise at the table, so we all benefit.”
He was supported by his parliamentary colleagues, with Victorian MP Tim Wilson telling The Australian: “Taiwan has had an enviable response to COVID-19 and can deliver useful insights to help other countries manage their pandemic response.
“To deny Taiwan participation in the World Health Assembly would be detrimental to global public health outcomes.”
Liberal senator for Victoria James Paterson also said Australia should publicly state its support for Taiwanese involvement.