The China-Taiwan conflict is disrupting the WHO’s fight against Covid-19

Date: April 9, 2020
By: Annabelle Timsit


In a highly-unusual speech, the leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday appealed to the international community to stop politicizing the fight against the novel coronavirus—and then proceeded to politicize it even further.

In an exchange with reporters, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African director-general of the WHO, said he had experienced death threats and racist vitriol online over the past three weeks. He alleged that some of these attacks came from Taiwan and accused the Taiwanese government of knowing about, and refusing to do anything about, them. (Taiwan has denied and harshly condemned these accusations.)

“If you want me to be specific, three months ago, this attack came from Taiwan. We need to be honest. I will be straight today. From Taiwan. And Taiwan, the Foreign Ministry also, they know the campaign, they didn’t disassociate themselves. They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn’t care. Three months. I say it today because it’s enough.”

The speech, and its accusation that Taiwan tacitly condoned a racist campaign, is the latest chapter in an ongoing diplomatic saga between China and Taiwan, which both leverage the issue of membership in the WHO, a UN agency, to further their own geopolitical interests. That conflict has reached a new level of intensity as the WHO, which likes to think of itself as apolitical, attempts to lead the world through one of the worst health crises in its history.

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