Member States Lock Horns Over Taiwan’s Status and Other Conflict Hot Spots In Closing Hours of World Health Assembly  
Seventy-Second World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland, 20–28 May 2019

Although a proposal to include Taiwan as a World Health Assembly (WHA) observer was delayed until the WHA 73 session resumes again later this year, that didn’t prevent WHO member states from locking horns over the issue in statements on the second day of this week’s virtual WHA session. 

The charge was led by a handful of states, small and large, from the USA to the Caribbean islands of St Kitts and Nevis, Haiti and Belize; the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu in the Pacific; and Eswatini in Africa.

The People’s Republic of China countered with their own arguments:

“There are a few countries determined to plead for the [inclusion of Taiwan], seriously violating the relevant UN resolutions…This video conference decided not to examine the issue of Taiwan to guarantee the smooth running of the meeting. However, just now, the US delegate is still [politicizing this]. That is not acceptable.”

But only a few states, including Syria and Pakistan, openly endorsed China’s stance on Taiwan, reaffirming that ‘there is only one true representative of China,’ in the words of Pakistan.

Most of the world’s other conflicts and regional fault lines were also plainly evident at the Assembly; including member state protests over the plight of migrant populations and refugees in conflict zones such as Yemen and the Sahel, as well as the health status of people in  territories such as Russian Federation-occupied Ukraine and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. 

Iran, Syria and Cuba also protested unilateral sanctions imposed by the USA.

“The US must be held accountable for continuing to intensify sanctions against Iran, which are undermining our ability [to fight] against the virus,” said a statement by Iran. 

Replying to the political punches from Syria, Cuba and Iran, the US rebutted that its sanctions had not blocked COVID-19 related assistance, and it was even facilitating humanitarian and medical assistance. 

Election of 10 New Members To the WHO Executive Board

In a final item of business, the WHA elected ten new members to the WHA Executive Board, the 34 member governing body that provides oversight to the organization throughout the years. 

Those included representatives from Botswana, Colombia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, India, Madagascar, Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Russian Federation.

Ukrainian delegate at the World Health Assembly on Tuesday

While Ukraine did not block the Russian Federation’s membership, it dissociated itself from the decision – denouncing Russia for violating international law and hampering health services delivery in occupied regions of the Ukraine affected by COVID-19. 

In a fiery rebuttal, the Russian Federation condemned Ukraine’s statement, calling it an attempt to scapegoat its own failure to handle the outbreak:

“Ukrainian authorities appear to be trying to push the responsibility” for its own failures “onto somebody else’s shoulders,” said the statement by Russia, where COVID-19 cases have exploded, leaving it as the second most infected country in the world, with almost 300,000 total cases that have been reported, and over 9,000 new cases over just the past 24 hours.

See more on WHA resolution.

Total cases of COVID-19 as of 8:32 PM CET 19 May 2020, with active case distribution globally. Numbers change rapidly.

Image Credits: WHO / Antoine Tardy, Johns Hopkins CSSE.