U.S. senators ask State Department to help Taiwan join WHA

Washington/Taipei, Two American senators on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill directing the State Department to develop a strategy to help Taiwan obtain observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA).

The WHA is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Jim Inhofe, co-chairmen of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, noted that diseases know no border and Taiwan's exclusion from global health cooperation "increases the dangers presented by COVID-19 pandemics."

The senators lauded Taiwan for spending over US$6 billion on international medical and humanitarian aid, impacting more than 80 countries since 1996, while also donating millions of items of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests to countries in need in 2020.

The bill asks the secretary of state to report on changes and improvements to the U.S. plan to endorse and obtain observer status for Taiwan at the WHA, following any of its annual meetings at which Taiwan does not obtain observer status.

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, was expelled from the WHO in 1972 after losing its seat at the United Nations when the U.N. switched recognition to the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan took part in the WHA as an observer from 2009 to 2016, when relations between Taipei and Beijing were better under the previous KMT government in Taiwan.

However, since 2017, China has pressured the WHO not to invite Taiwan, one year after President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party took office.

"To prevent a preeminent leader in medical technology and a magnanimous contributor to humanitarian aid efforts from participating in the WHA on the basis of China's narrow hostility simply hinders global recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic," Menendez said in a press statement.

"The United States must do more to champion Taiwan's engagement in the international community, particularly in international public health efforts, and to demonstrate our commitment to the wellbeing of the people of Taiwan," he added.

For his part, Inhofe criticized Beijing for hiding the coronavirus from the public at the beginning of the pandemic, hoarding medical supplies, silencing doctors and engaging in coercive vaccine diplomacy.

"Given China's continued malicious behavior, it is unacceptable to refuse Taiwan a seat at the table any longer. Simply put -- Taiwan's observer status must be restored," Inhofe said.

In Taipei, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) thanked the U.S. legislators for supporting Taiwan's international participation.

Douglas Hsu head of MOFA's North American Affairs Department, said Thursday that MOFA will continue to closely monitor the progress of the legislation.

He called on the WHO to consider professional assessments and opinions from all sides, and make appropriate arrangements to include Taiwan in the organization.

Similar bills were proposed in January 2019 in the U.S. House of Representatives and in May 2020 in the U.S. Senate, only to be shelved.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel