Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has strongly criticized the reliability of the World Health Organization (WHO) after a senior advisor from the global health body appeared to hang up on a journalist who questioned him about Taiwan’s success story in dealing with the new coronavirus pandemic.
The incident occurred when Yvonne Tong, a journalist from Hong Kong-based RTHK, interviewed assistant director-general at the WHO, Bruce Aylward, via video link on March 27.
Following a segment outlining Taiwan’s exemplary response to the new coronavirus epidemic, Tong asked Aylward if the WHO would consider Taiwan’s membership.
Aylward seemingly ignored the question, and when Tong pressed him on the matter, he appeared to hang up. When called back, Aylward skirted the issue, saying “we’ve already talked about China.”
The incident prompted a strong response from Cardinal Zen.
“Aylward, the so-called expert of the WHO, pathetically shy away from answering the question about Taiwan’s membership and performance, twice, by pretending not to hear the reporter and cutting the call. How possible we can trust WHO,” the former bishop of Hong Kong tweeted on March 30.
That sentiment was shared by a spokesman for Taiwan’s presidential office, who tweeted: “Looks like the WHO has a poor connection with more than just reality.”
The WHO has long faced criticism for allegedly kowtowing to Beijing, with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the global health body, praising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “political commitment” and “leadership” during the global health crisis.
Facing backlash for failing to acknowledge Beijing’s earlier attempts to downplay the pandemic, Ghebreyesus doubled down on his praise for Xi.
“We have met the [Chinese] president. We have seen the level of knowledge he has on the outbreak,” Tedros said in February. “Don’t you appreciate that kind of leadership? We don’t say anything to please anyone.”
In February, Aylward led a WHO mission to Wuhan, later told the media China had “absolutely turned [the situation] around”.
In a clip shared by Chinese media, Aylward praised China’s efforts to tackle the pandemic, saying “if I had COVID-19 I’d want to be treated in China,” the Guardian cites him as saying.
In January, the WHO also repeated China’s repeated denials that new coronavirus was spread via human to human transmission.
“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China, the WHO tweeted.
The Taiwanese government said it had tried to warn the WHO about the threat of human-to-human transmission in December 2019, but was ignored.
Taiwan, which is not a member of the United Nations, is precluded from WHO membership. As a result, the country has been excluded from expert meetings on the pandemic. At Beijing’s behest, the island nation of 24 million has also been sidelined from the World Health Assembly’s annual meetings in recent years.
That has prompted accusations the WHO is putting politics above lives.
“We hope through the test of this epidemic, the WHO can recognize clearly that epidemics do not have national borders, no one place should be left out because any place that is left out could become a loophole… any place’s strength shouldn’t be neglected so that it can make contributions to the world,” said Taiwan’s health minister Chen Shih-chung.
Taiwan for its part has served as an outlier in tackling the new coronavirus pandemic.
Despite its close proximity to China, Taiwan has only registered 306 confirmed cases and five deaths since the new coronavirus pandemic broke out in neighboring China last year.
The country has been ranked number one in the Health Care Index 2020, and leveraged its health system, data analytics, and public outreach to maximal effect, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.
On March 30, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said her country was “capable and willing” to cooperate with every country to tackle the new coronavirus pandemic.