U.S. Congress calls on S. Korea to vote for Taiwan’s WHO observer status

2020.05.15 09:39:55 | 2020.05.15 09:40:23

(From left) Chinese President Xi Jinping, Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.이미지 확대

(From left) Chinese President Xi Jinping, Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Congress has sent a letter last week asking South Korea to join calls for Taiwan to regain World Health Organization (WHO) observer status, leaving Korea caught in U.S.-China crossfire.

Maeil Business Newspaper on Thursday learned that Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday announced that members of U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee last week sent a letter to 50 state governments asking them to reinstate Taiwan’s observer status at the WHO.

Based on the announcement made by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea was also included in the list along with others such as Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Singapore, Switzerland, and Thailand. Reuters earlier reported that Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand among others received the letter.

According to the ministry, the letter had signatures of Congressmen Eliot Engel, chairman of the house committee on foreign affairs, and James Risch, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee.

The Korean government declined to confirm whether it has received that letter.

The American congressmen criticized that it is not fair for Taiwan to lose access to WHO at China’s urging, and no country in the world can manipulate UN resources. The letter comes ahead of WHO World Health Assembly (WHA) web meeting on May 18 where Taiwan is seeking to regain WHO observer status.

The letter from U.S. Congress has put the Korean government in the middle of the ongoing spat between its two most important allies and biggest trading partners the U.S. and China.

While the U.S. is pushing to help Taiwan reinstate its observer status at WHO, China is strongly against it because it does not approve Taiwan as an independent country.

On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a phone call with Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss various issues. It was the first time for the two leaders to have a phone conversation since mid-February.

Multiple sources in the diplomatic industry speculated that Chinese President Xi might have requested President Moon to oppose the reinstatement of Taiwan’s WHO observer membership at the upcoming assembly meeting.

Taiwan was practically expelled from the UN and affiliated organizations in 1971 when China was admitted.

With China expanding its global influence, Taiwan had to subscribe to World Trade Organization and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as “Chinese Taipei” without being approved of its diplomatic right as a sovereign country.

Taiwan was given observer status at WHO under its Beijing-friendly leader Ma Ying-jeou but it lost the qualification under anti-China Democratic Progressive Party in 2017. It has been rapidly losing its status at WHO under current WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Ghebreyesus, the first person from Africa to serve as WHO chief, has been widely criticized for ignoring Taiwan’s warning on December 31 on the possibility of person-to-person infection of coronavirus. He has also been criticized for breaking political neutrality after winning his seat in 2017 by supporting “One China” principle.

For Taiwan to be a member of WHO, it needs to win more than half of votes from 194 countries. Key allies of U.S., such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have already welcomed U.S. Congress’s letter and agreed to grant Taiwan observer status.

According to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already supported Taiwan’s WHO participation in February, saying that there should be no geographical gap triggered when discussing global infection measures.

By Lee Jae-cheol, Ahn Jeong-hoon and Lee Eun-joo

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