TAIPEI – Taiwan's foreign ministry on Thursday strongly protested accusations from the head of the World Health Organization that the self-governing island was linked to and condoned racist personal attacks on him.
A ministry statement expressed “strong dissatisfaction and a high degree of regret” with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ remarks at a press briefing in Geneva on Wednesday. It requested he “immediately correct his unfounded allegations, immediately clarify, and apologize to our country.”
At the press briefing, Tedros vocally defended himself and the U.N. health agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He accused Taiwan’s foreign ministry of being linked to a months-long campaign against him and said that since the emergence of the new coronavirus, he has been personally attacked, including receiving at times, death threats and racist abuse.
“This attack came from Taiwan,” said Tedros, a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister and the WHO’s first African leader.
He said Taiwanese diplomats were aware of the attacks but did not dissociate themselves from them. “They even started criticizing me in the middle of all those insults and slurs,” Tedros said. “I say it today because it’s enough.” The basis of his allegations was unclear.
President Tsai Ing-wen also weighed in, saying on Facebook that Taiwan does not condone the use of racist remarks to attack those with different opinions.
“If Director-General Tedros could withstand pressure from China and come to Taiwan to see Taiwan’s efforts to fight COVID-19 for himself, he would be able to see that the Taiwanese people are the true victims of unfair treatment,” she wrote, referring to Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO at China's insistence. “I believe that the WHO will only truly be complete if Taiwan is included."
Tedros was elected with the strong support of China, one of five permanent veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council and which claims Taiwan as its own territory. He has firmly backed Beijing's claims to have been open and transparent about the outbreak, despite strong evidence that it suppressed early reports on infections, while echoing its criticisms of the U.S.
Taiwan is barred from the U.N. and has been stripped of its observer status at the WHO's World Health Assembly. At the same time, it has one of the most robust public health systems in the world, and has won praise for its handling of the virus outbreak.
Despite its close proximity to China and the frequency of travel between the sides, Taiwan has reported just 379 cases and five deaths.
U.S. and Taiwanese officials met online last month to discuss ways of increasing the island’s participation in the world health system, sparking fury from Beijing, which opposes all official contacts between Washington and Taipei.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday that “we hope the Taiwan authorities will not politicize the epidemic situation or engage in political manipulation."
He added in written comments after the daily briefing: “Their real intention is to seek independence under the pretext of the pandemic.”
Also at Wednesday's briefing, Tedros sought to rise above sharp criticism and threats of funding cuts from President Donald Trump over the WHO's response to the outbreak.
The vocal defense came a day after Trump blasted the agency for being “China-centric” and alleging that it had “criticized” his ban of travel from China as the COVID-19 outbreak was spreading from the city of Wuhan.