World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was shocked by the visa ban. Photo: AFP

The explosive outbreak of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China’s Hubei province is advancing at a breakneck pace. With the death toll from the virus passing 1,000, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) gathered top scientists in Geneva on Tuesday to try to answer a raft of questions about the new disease. The meeting, involving top medical, scientific and public health experts, aimed at speeding up the global response to the outbreak.

They’ll be trying to answer a number of questions on how the virus spreads and why some people are more vulnerable than others. However, the 23 million people of Taiwan will be without a voice in those talks.

This is an anxious, fraught, and potentially humiliating moment for the island, as Taiwan lies just about 160 kilometers east of China. Relevant agencies have been directed to remain on high alert as Taiwan needs to prepare for the worst. The island now has more than 150 suspected cases under quarantine and the epidemic monitoring agency has confirmed the 18th pneumonia case due to the virus, also the first without symptoms.

Since the deadly new coronavirus began spreading from its epicenter of Wuhan, China, in January, the Taiwanese government has been scrambling to react. The threat posed by Taiwan’s much larger neighbor is now compounded by an unseen enemy arriving with the flow of travelers in a tightly connected cross-Strait economy. Thus obstructing Taiwan’s participation at the WHO has not only put Taiwanese lives at risk but also undermined the health and security of other citizens and nationals of the Asian-Pacific region.

Recalling Taiwan’s contributions in managing the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003, I would like to remind the global community of Taiwan’s knowledge and experience in managing coronavirus pandemics. Taiwan is more than capable of using its expertise to support WHO member states in achieving health-related UN Sustainable Development Goals and can undoubtedly contribute to the management of the latest coronavirus outbreak.

Taiwan is densely populated with a significant amount of international passenger traffic. Given the complexity behind the emergence and transmission of 2019-nCoV, we must halt the spread of the disease at its source. Hence it is important that we work with our global partners and do more to support China. As a responsible global citizen, Taiwan is ready and willing to participate in international and humanitarian aid efforts for affected countries.

What’s more, Taiwan is facing a public health crisis while being shut out of the WHO. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and blocks it from joining the WHO, the United Nations and other international organizations. Consequently, Taiwan’s ability to share information with these bodies is limited, and it is lumped in with China in WHO health advisories. One repercussion: Italy and the Philippines have banned flights to and from Taiwan, leaving many Taiwanese tourists stranded.

In the area of public health, it is in everyone’s interest for Taiwan to play a role in addressing global health issues. Combating disease concerns all humans and Taiwan should not be excluded from such efforts.

If the mottos of the WHO are “health for all” and “leaving no one behind,” well, the Taiwanese people are certainly not treated that way. Therefore, the WHO ought to recognize the simple fact that Taiwan is Taiwan and not part of the People’s Republic of China.

Building a healthier future for people all over the world is an issue that knows no borders. It requires not only national, but global solutions. If the WHO excludes Taiwan from participation, what message does it send to the rest of the world?

Kent Wang

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.

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