Among these negative statements, one stood out. China’s most negative one, in fact—as it surfaces a familiar pattern of geopolitical concerns darkening the mood of COVID-19 coordination. Health Minister of China Ma Xiaowei proclaimed, “I call on all parties to unite and support the leadership of WHO and resolutely oppose rumours, stigmatisation and discrimination.” Ma was referring to the sticky issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO, given their exemplary management of the pandemic thus far.
While most Asian countries did not mention Taiwan in their statements, a few vocalised their support or disapproval of Taiwan’s exclusion. Cambodia, the Maldives, Myanmar, and Pakistan declared their support for the One-China policy—which recognises China as the only legitimate sovereign amongst other contested territories such as Taiwan. Japan, a longtime ally of Taiwan’s, was the lone detractor among Asian countries, commenting that Taiwan’s exclusion leaves a geographical vacuum in the global health response.
In the subsequent “right of reply” segment, Minister Ma defended China’s position, calling the remarks on Taiwan “irresponsible” and "unwarranted accusations”. He reiterated that Taiwan’s participation must be undergirded by the One-China principle and that Taiwan has been able to obtain relevant information about the pandemic since the outbreak. With that, the Taiwan issue concluded, and it was not mentioned in the final resolution.
The conversation around Taiwan in the WHA reveals how states treat one another during times of crisis. Member states responded to the stress of COVID-19 in two ways when it came to sticky diplomatic issues: they either stood united or allowed existing tensions and fissures to rise to the surface.