Tedros’ job could hinge on Taiwan’s WHA role

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  • By Chen Yung-chang 陳永昌

The 75th meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) is due to take place from May 22-28, a meeting in which Taiwan’s return as an observer becomes increasingly possible.

US Under Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brain McKeon has made it clear to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that the United States supports Taiwan’s participation in the meeting with the status of observer, as well as an ongoing investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

This shows that Washington continues to defend Taiwan’s interests and that there is still a chance for Taiwan to attend the WHA meeting, even though it has not yet received an invitation.

McKeon is of the same rank as US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Unlike Sherman, who must constantly shuttle between countries, McKeon is responsible for the management and resources of the State Department.

It falls to McKeon to “remind” Tedros of the contingencies attached to US funding of the WHO. This fact matters, especially now, given that attendees at the upcoming WHA meeting must vote on whether Tedros should receive a second five-year term.

The intervention of US President Joe Biden’s administration at this crucial moment aims to send a clear message to Tedros about its support for Taiwan’s presence.

Whether Taiwan can participate with observer nation status, as before, depends on whether Tedros issues an invitation. If Tedros rejects the US “suggestion”, the administration could ask US allies not to support his reappointment. Another option would be for the United States to withhold dues.

Former US President Donald Trump froze US funding for the WHO two years ago. He said the organization under Tedros had been too willing to take inspiration from Beijing and trust its COVID-19 data, a trust that led to the rapid spread of the virus.

The State Department said funding would not resume until Tedros steps down, and it called for an investigation into the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

Trump estimated that the United States contributed 10 times more than China to the organization, between 400 and 500 million US dollars, or about 14% of the WHO’s budget, funding which was of crucial importance for WHO.

When calls for reform of the institution did not receive a substantial response, the Trump administration announced in July 2020 that it would withdraw from the WHO, effective a year later, and offered the creation of a new international health organization to replace WHO.

Biden reversed the decision on his first day in office, and WHO funding resumed. However, his administration continues to pressure the health body to reform and investigate the origins of the virus.

There has been a clear shift in Tedros’ pro-China stance. In October last year, the WHO said it would form a task force to open a second round of investigations into the origin of the virus, and Tedros followed the US position that he may have fled from a laboratory in Wuhan, asking China to make its data available. to the investigation.

The growing distance between Tedros and China was hinted at when Beijing failed to indicate support for Tedros’ reappointment.

Whether Tedros continues to be Beijing’s pawn or on the Western side could determine whether Taiwan attends the WHA meeting next month.

Chen Yung-chang is an entrepreneur.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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