Taipei, or not Taipei: that is not the question WHO wants to deal with right now

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This is an onsite edited excerpt of the G|O Briefing newsletter

Much to WHO’s frustration, Taiwan’s presence has become an issue in the run-up to the WHA. Over a dozen countries have officially asked Dr Tedros to invite Taiwan to attend the WHA as an observer—a status it enjoyed between 2009 and 2016. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly called for its inclusion, and other countries like Canada, New Zealand, and European states have indicated they would look at Taiwan’s inclusion favorably. Conspiracy theorists are out en masse pointing to Taiwan’s non-invitation as definitive proof that Dr Tedros is in China’s pocket. The reality, however, may be less juicy: a consensus among Member States is required for an invitation, and so far, China has put its foot down.

Taiwan was invited to attend the WHA at a time when Beijing looked favorably on its administration. When a new administration, less warm to China, came to power in 2016 (recently re-elected in 2020), the invitations coincidentally ceased. Steve Solomon, WHO’s rather well-preserved principal legal officer, has been fielding questions about Taiwan during WHO’s regular press conferences. Any mention of the word ‘Taiwan’ and Dr Tedros looks immediately off-camera (stage left) at Solomon, pre-prepared and legally vetted statement at the ready: Their invitation is a matter for Member States, not the WHO secretariat; and while previously a “diplomatically agreeable solution” had been found behind the scenes (read: China said yes), this time around, there are “divergent issues among Member States” (read: China said no).