US Congress passes law to help Taiwan regain WHO status

The bill passed with unanimous support and is expected to be signed into law by US President Joe Biden.

President Tsai Ing wen surrounded by doctors and a nurse in white coats after getting her COVID-19 shot
China has stepped up efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally since Tsai Ing-wen (centre) became president [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]

The US House of Representatives has unanimously passed legislation calling on the State Department to submit a plan to help Taiwan regain its observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO) in a rare show of bipartisan cooperation.

The House passed the bill 425 to 0 on Wednesday, after it passed the Senate last August. It will now go to the White House where President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law.

Taiwan is excluded from most global organisations such as the WHO, the United Nations health agency, because of objections from Beijing, which considers the island part of its territory and not a separate country.

The measure directs the secretary of state to establish a strategy for obtaining observer status at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO.

Taiwan was stripped of that status in 2017, after Tsai Ing-wen was elected president.

Beijing sees Tsai as a separatist and has stepped up pressure on the island since she took office, seeking to limit Taipei’s participation not only in the WHO but in other non-political organisations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The number of countries with which Taiwan has maintained formal diplomatic relations has also shrunk since Tsai became president – with just 15 states currently recognising Taipei over Beijing.

Urging support for the bill, Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly praised Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that it had only 37,000 confirmed cases despite a population of 23.5 million, and that it shared expertise and donated protective equipment internationally.

“Taiwan’s leadership and contribution to global health security demonstrate why it ought to be part of the general conversation on public health,” he said.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry expressed its thanks for the US support, saying the government was continuing efforts to be able to take part this year.

China has already indicated it will not support Taiwan’s participation at this year’s assembly.

Taiwan campaigned hard for an observer seat at the 2021 assembly but was unsuccessful.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters