The US has repeatedly clashed with China over its refusal to allow full access to non-WHO member Taiwan, claimed by the Chinese Communist Party to be a rogue province, which is another source of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Taiwan says China and the WHO have conspired for political purposes to lock it out of key meetings, that the WHO has not responded to its requests for coronavirus information and that the WHO has previously misreported Taiwan’s virus case numbers.
The WHO and China dispute this, saying Taiwan has been given all the help it needs, but that only the Chinese Communist Party has the right to represent the democratic island in the WHO.
In a report released Tuesday, the Congress’ US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said Taiwan’s exclusion contributed to “critical delays” in timely receipt and accurate guidance for WHO members in the early stages of the outbreak.
“Had the WHO allowed Taiwan’s health experts to share information and best practices in early January, governments around the world could have had more complete information on which to base their public health policies,” it said.
One of Taiwan’s main complaints is that the WHO ignored its request for information in late December on the potential for human-to-human transmission.
The WHO has said an email it received from Taiwan made no mention of human-to-human transmission.
China confirmed virus transmission between people on Jan. 20. On Jan. 12, the WHO had said there was no clear evidence of such transmission.
“In this respect, the WHO’s suppression of information provided by Taiwan and the delayed issuance of its own guidance undermined the national security of the very member states trusting it for authoritative public health guidance,” the commission said in a report to Congress.
“The lives lost as a result of these missteps offer a tragic reminder of how global health is compromised by the WHO’s politically-motivated exclusion of Taiwan.”
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said there were arrangements that guarantee Taiwan is able to deal with public health incidents internationally or locally.
“The report by this so-called commission is from start to finish a distortion of the facts and full of prejudice,” he told a daily news briefing.
Taiwan, with the strong backing of the US and some of its major allies, is lobbying to be allowed access as an observer to next week’s meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly.
But China says it won’t support this and the WHO says it has no mandate on its own to invite Taiwan.
Taiwan has reported only 440 coronavirus cases and seven deaths, far lower than many of its neighbors and a tiny fraction of the more than 83,000 deaths to date in the US, thanks to early and effective prevention work and its highly regarded health system.
The Chinese Communist Party, under its “one China” policy, considers Taiwan ineligible for state-to-state relations or membership of bodies like the WHO. Taiwan has diplomatic relations with only 15 countries, almost all small and developing.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party is lashing out at the US over the pandemic, accusing America of “sabotaging” the coronavirus relief effort.
“Despite being the world’s leading power in medical technology, the US has turned a blind eye to the global crisis, sabotaging joint efforts to tackle the lethal virus,” an article in the state-run People’s Daily said.
“Amid swirling questions over whether the US government ignored warnings from the WHO and countries like China about the virus’ potential severity, the White House has sought to assign blame elsewhere, creating obstacles for international cooperation on pandemic control.”
President Donald Trump in recent weeks has pointed the finger at China for the global spread of the virus, asserting that it could have been stopped had Chinese officials not bungled their response and failed to share information.
He and other world leaders have also called for an international probe of China’s handling of the outbreak.
On Tuesday, he also mentioned the pandemic as a pitfall in his phase one trade deal with China, and slammed the enormous economic damage it has caused.
“As I have said for a long time, dealing with China is a very expensive thing to do. We just made a great Trade Deal, the ink was barely dry, and the World was hit by the Plague from China. 100 Trade Deals wouldn’t make up the difference – and all those innocent lives lost!” he tweeted.