In a decision that places Foreign Policy on a higher level than Healthcare Policy and apparently more important to the Berlaymont than saving European lives, the European Commission has bottled its support for Taiwan to be granted observer status at the WHO this week.
Taiwan, with the strong support of the United States, had lobbied hard to be allowed to take part as an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body – a move that angered China.
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO due to the objections of China, which asserts unilaterally that the island is one of its provinces. A claim that is disputed by 23 million citizens of democratic, free and independent Taiwan.
More than 100 MEPs wrote an open letter in support of Taiwan being given observer status at the WHO.
But, commenting on the issue this week, European Commission spokesperson Virginie Battu-Henriksson has said that the EU has a one China policy, and that it is this policy that has determined the Commission’s negative response to Taiwan’s request to be granted observer status at the WHO, so that other countries could benefit from their experience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. She did not explain to journalists why foreign policy considerations were more important to the European Commission than European Healthcare Policy, and the lives of EU citizens.
Interestingly, New Zealand has stated clearly that New Zealand has to stand up for itself after China warned its call for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) could damage bilateral ties. Senior ministers in New Zealand said that Taiwan should be allowed to join the WHO as an observer given its success in limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus, drawing China’s anger.
“We have got to stand up for ourselves,” Winston Peters, New Zealand’s foreign minister, said at a news conference when asked about China’s response to New Zealand’s position on Taiwan. “And true friendship is based on equality. It’s based on the ability in this friendship to nevertheless disagree.”
Peters said he did not think the issue would harm diplomatic ties with China, which is New Zealand’s biggest trading partner.
Taiwan has reported only 440 coronavirus cases and seven related deaths, relatively low figures attributed to early and effective disease prevention and control work.
Peters praised Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 and said there was a lot for other countries to learn from. “New Zealand’s position on Taiwan is about its tremendous success against Covid-19,” Peters said.
When asked about China’s hostile response, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand’s position on Taiwan was only related to its health response to Covid-19. “We have always taken a ‘One China’ policy, and that continues to be the case,” Ardern said.
So the question remains open for the Berlaymont Mandarins. What is more important to you? Should you stand up for the healthcare of Europe’s citizens, and doing what is best for European lives in tackling coronavirus by learning from countries like New Zealand and Taiwan, or should you hide behind a policy of obeisance to irrelevant totalitarian foreign policy demands that have nothing to do with health policy?