(Adds comments from Council on Foreign Relations fellow in eighth, ninth, and 12th paragraphs.)
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Senators moved to pressure China to allow Taiwan to regain observer status at the World Health Organization, citing public health concerns during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Wednesday to require the secretary of state to provide additional information in his report to Congress on efforts to help Taiwan regain its WHO observer status after the Pacific island was locked out of global health talks throughout the pandemic.
“Taiwan’s absence from the World Health Assembly over the last several years is yet another example of the Chinese government’s push to isolate Taiwan internationally, including on issues that matter to all of us like public health,” Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement to Bloomberg Government. “Taiwan is an important partner to the United States, and it is critical that the administration improve its strategy to help Taiwan obtain observer status.”
The bill (S. 812) was sponsored by committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). It would update a 2004 law by requiring the secretary of state to report to Congress on “changes and improvements” the State Department has made in its strategy to reengage Taiwan in international health meetings.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar bill (H.R. 1145) in March.
China doesn’t recognize Taiwan as an independent state. China says it represents the nation in international conferences, including the World Health Assembly, an annual WHO meeting where member states discuss and agree on global health policies.
Taiwan has been locked out of the assembly since its 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party, which China denounces. Taiwan has been largely seen as successfully managing Covid-19, despite its exclusion, although it faced greater challenges in recent months.
The U.S. has consistently supported Taiwan’s engagement in the international community, but U.S. withdrawal from the WHO under the Trump administration created “collateral damage,” said David Sacks, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the WHO means that the U.S. lost whatever leverage it had to work within the organization to lobby for Taiwan’s inclusion,” Sacks said.
“Shutting them out of last month’s World Health Assembly under pressure from the People’s Republic of China weakened us all,” Erica Barks-Ruggles, a State Department official, said at a subcommittee hearing earlier this month.
Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control has reported 787 deaths out of a population of 23.6 million. The country’s successes in stemming the spread of Covid-19 followed early preparedness. Sacks said Taiwan was aggressive from the beginning with screening and quarantining travelers.
China’s efforts to block Taiwan from the WHO are “narrow minded and endanger the international community,” especially as the pandemic continues, Menendez said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org