Virtual meeting of 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) is scheduled to on May 18-19, which will br followed by meeting of the Executive Board on May22. WHA is the legislative decision making body of WHO that meets in May annually and appoints the Director General every five years. Attended by delegates from all WHO member states, WHA votes on matters of finance and policy and focuses on specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. WHA elects 34 members, technically qualified in the field of health, to the Executive Board for three-year terms. Main functions of the Executive Board are to carry out the decisions and policies of the WHA, to advise it and to facilitate its work. India is slated to take over Chair of the WHO Executive Board for three years soon.
The upcoming 73rd WHA meeting is important as the world is battling COVID-19, which will be the main issue for discussion. The WHO relies on assessed and voluntary contributions from member states and private donors for funding. The largest contributor is the US, which gives WHO over $400 million annually. However, President Donald Trump recently announced halting US funding to WHO and funds previously earmarked for WHO to be held for 60–90 days pending an investigation into WHO’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. China gave WHO $50 million in wake of COVID-19; $20 million just before the pandemic was officially announced and another $30 million Trump halted funding to WHO.
In a global discussion on COVID-19, participation of Taiwan should be must for two reasons: first, the highly efficient manner it has managed the pandemic, and; second, Taiwan had informed WHO about the pandemic outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019. The first is of high significance since WHA would deliberate upon collective international approach to fight COVID-19 which according to WHO may not even go away fully, and for which Taiwan’s inputs would be invaluable. There is considerable support in foreign capitals for Taiwan, a country of 24 million that has responded effectively to the pandemic, for participation in WHO discussions. With the pandemic persisting and indications of other strains emerging, the issue will require WHO indulgence for many years. Inclusion of Taiwan in deliberations of WHA is therefore warranted at notwithstanding Chinese obduracy.
Taiwan was a “founding member” of the United Nations, held a UNSC seat and in other UN as late as 1971. It was in 1971 that Taiwan was expelled from the UNSC and other such UN bodies under Resolution 2758 at behest of the People’s Republic of China and replaced by the latter. Logically, Taiwan’s membership of UN should have also been allowed to contine, but that did not happen. In the instant case, China is irked more because the Taiwan’s warning to WHO about the pandemic outbreak in December 2019 was ignored. Declaring the pandemic at a later date caused faster virus spread with international travel continuing and countries devoid of timely warning. There is considerable anger against China and the WHO on this count and compensations are being demanded by multiple countries. In addition to evolving a global approach to fight the virus, three important issues are, : one, fixing origin of COVID-19 through independent inquiry, two, culpability in delaying information of the outbreak, and three, collective approach to deal with the offender (s).
Media reports of May 7, indicated the US and Japan were asking key like-minded nations, including Australia, UK, France, and Germany, to sign a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General WHO, requesting him to invite Taiwanese delegation to the forthcoming WHA meet. If the letter was indeed sent, Tedros is unlikely to invite Taiwan since he dug in his heels supporting China and his own reputation too is at stake. China cultivated Tedros when he was still an Ethiopian minister and leader of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. China helped him being appointed DG WHO with support of a block of African and Asian Countries. There is speculation WHO lists Taiwan’s COVID-19 statistics together with China’s, denying the world accurate and timely information on the pandemic.
Agenda for the 73rd WHA meet chalked out by the Executive Board will not include the three issues of independent inquiry for establishing origin of COVID-19, culpability in hiding the outbreak and dealing with offenders. Tedros too would avoid mentioning these in his opening address. But these issues will likely be raised when discussions get going. What will be the stance by the 34-member states is difficult to predict with China buying opinions and resorting to open threats. Against India, China is indulging in aggressive actions astride the line of actual control and signing new development projects in Indian Territory illegally occupied by Pakistan.
Finally, the issue is if the world can’t stand up to the overtly rogue behavior of China’s communist regime in a forum like WHA, it should be prepared for an even more aggressive China with UN forums playing mascot. The debate about reforming and reorganizing UN bodies will also remain paper talk. Interestingly, Indian Union Minister Nitin Gadkari recently told media, “This (COVID-19) is not a natural virus. It is artificial virus. Countries are making research on a vaccine. This is a virus from laboratory. It is not a natural virus.” As is known, Tedros and his caboodle have been citing wet markets of China as the source of COVID-19, not the lab in Wuhan.” WHO however has been opining that the virus came out of the Wuhan wet markets and not from the lab in Wuhan.