Taiwan is firing back after the head of the World Health Organization directed claims of racism at the island nation, which revealed that it warned the WHO on Dec. 31 that the coronavirus brewing in Wuhan, China, could become a major health catastrophe.
“When as a community people start to insult us, that’s enough,” he said. “We cannot tolerate that. But since I don’t have any inferiority complex when I am personally affected or attacked by racial slurs, I don’t care because I am a very proud black person.”
“This attack comes from Taiwan,” Ghebreyesus said. “The foreign ministry knows about this campaign and they didn’t disassociate themselves.”
He accused Taiwanese diplomats of being aware of the racist attacks.
“They even started criticizing me in the middle of all those insults and slurs,” Ghebreyesus said, according to ABC News.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry rebuked the WHO leader.
“Without having checked the facts, Tedros’s unprovoked and untrue accusations not only differ from reality, they have also seriously harmed our government and our people,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday. “This kind of slander is extremely irresponsible.”
In her response, posted on her official Chinese-language Facebook page, President Tsai Ing-wen cited the WHO’s refusal to give Taiwan membership.
“Taiwan always objects to discrimination in any form. We know how it feels to be discriminated against and isolated more than anyone else as we have been excluded from global organizations for years,” she wrote. “So I’d like to invite Tedros to visit Taiwan, to see how Taiwanese commit to devote to international society despite being discriminated and isolated.”
The racism allegations came against a backdrop of an accusation from Taiwan that the WHO failed to heed its warnings about the coronavirus.
Taiwan officials say they alerted China and the WHO on Dec. 31 that suspected human-to-human transmission of the virus was taking place in China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, according to NBC News. That is the same day China first officially notified the world that the virus existed.
Joanne Ou, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said the warning came from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control based on information at the time coming from China as well as Taiwan’s experience with the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which was centered in China.
“It’s the same coronavirus family, which is highly contagious. We informed them of our opinion … but nobody listened to us,” Ou said.
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, said that if Taiwan had been a member of the WHO, “we would have learned at least two weeks earlier of the threat we were facing.”
“In addition, we would have learned at least six weeks earlier that the outbreak could be successfully suppressed and how to do so,” he told NBC News. “The experience of the last three months shows that exclusion of Taiwan from the WHO decreases the effectiveness of the WHO and increases risks to the world.”
As late as mid-January, the WHO was reporting that it was told by China there had been no human-to-human transmission of the virus, an account it has stood by despite criticism of China for not being fully forthcoming.
Taiwan, off the coast of China, is the island to which Chinese nationalists fled after losing the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong and the Communist Party in 1949. Relations between the two have ebbed and flowed over the years, with the current regime taking forceful exception to any recognition of Taiwan.
The small nation was ousted from the WHO at China’s instigation and has been fighting to become a member once again.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized the WHO for what he termed a bias in favor of China.
“The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?” he tweeted.
The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2020
On Thursday, a State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. was concerned about the implications of Taiwan’s contention, according to the Straits Times.
The United States is “deeply disturbed that Taiwan’s information was withheld from the global health community, as reflected in the WHO’s Jan 14, 2020 statement that there was no indication of human-to-human transmission,” the spokeswoman said.
“The WHO once again chose politics over public health,” she said, adding that its actions have “cost time and lives,” she said.
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