India caught in U.S.-China spat over Taiwan’s status at WHO

India caught in U.S.-China spat over Taiwan’s status at WHO

Jaishankar attends seven-nation meet on UN body

As tensions between the U.S. and China rise over the novel coronavirus pandemic, India, which is set to take over as the next Chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s decision-making executive body in May, is faced with a major choice on whether to support a U.S. move to reinstate Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) or to China’s opposition to it.

On Monday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar attended a seven-nation virtual meeting of Foreign Ministers, convened by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which appeared to be part of Washington’s efforts to gain support for its move to effect changes at the WHO.

The U.S. has, in the recent past, accused it of acting as a “PR agency” for China during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Mr. Jaishankar will take part in a virtual meeting of the 8-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led by China and Russia, which will discuss responses to the pandemic. The meeting was held on the same day the U.S. Senate passed an Act (S.249) to “direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization”, beginning with its decision-making body, the WHA. The Geneva-based WHA will hold a virtual meeting on May 18 and 19 to elect members to the 34-nation Executive Board, among other things, and it will be followed by a Board meeting on May 22.

Officials have confirmed that India’s nominee will take over as the Chairperson, replacing Japan.

India is likely to hold the post for the next three years. The timing of the appointment is crucial, given the worldwide debate on the role of the WHO during the pandemic, and criticism of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The seven-nation meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Australia, Brazil, India, Israel, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. Significantly, all invitees other than India are major non-NATO allies of the United States, who would be expected to support Washington’s call.

“Secretary Pompeo and his counterparts discussed the importance of international cooperation, transparency, and accountability in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and in addressing its causes,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, in a veiled reference to China and the origins of the virus in Wuhan.

“They also discussed collaboration toward preventing future global health crises, reaffirming the importance of the rules-based international order,” Ms. Ortagus added.

The MEA declined to comment on whether Taiwan was discussed during the meeting, or whether India has decided on supporting the US on its move to include Taiwan as a WHA participant. A senior official said the meeting had discussed “strengthening and reforming” the WHO.

Mr. Jaishankar had tweeted on Monday that the “conversation covered pandemic response, global health management, medical cooperation, economic recovery and travel norms.”

Japan said its Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu stressed “the need for each country to share information and insights in a free, transparent, and timely manner.”

South Korean FM Kang Kyung-hwa praised the US for its “leading role in discussing international cooperation” and also stressed on the importance of “rapid and transparent information sharing” to counter the Covid-19 virus.

Meanwhile, China has also stepped up warnings on any attempt to include or support Taiwan’s role at the WHA, referring to the “One-China” principle as “a widely accepted universal consensus of the international community including the Indian government.”

“China’s position on Taiwan region’s participation in WHO activities, including WHA is clear and consistent. It must be handled according to the ‘One China’ principle,” tweeted Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong, making it clear that New Delhi’s decision at the WHA will be watched closely in Beijing.

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