May 6, 2020 - World

WHO members to discuss Taiwan's status

People holding up a Taiwan National Flag in Hong Kong, Oct. 10, 2019.
People holding up a Taiwan National Flag in Hong Kong, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

World Health Organization legal counsel Steven Solomon said on May 4 that two WHO member nations have proposed the organization grant observer status to Taiwan.

Why it matters: China opposes the WHO granting recognition to Taiwan. The decision will likely be seen as a reflection of Beijing's influence within the organization.

  • Solomon said the 194 WHO member states will discuss Taiwan's status at the upcoming World Health Assembly, the organization's decision-making body, to be held virtually on May 18 and 19.

What's happening: Taiwan's successful coronavirus response and its early warnings to the WHO have renewed international debate around its lack of official status in the organization.

Background: Taiwan had observer status in the WHO from 2009 to 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen, who favored more distant relations with China, was elected president of Taiwan.

  • After Tsai's election, Beijing took numerous measures to isolate Taiwan internationally, including poaching several of its few remaining diplomatic allies.

What to watch: The debate over Taiwan's status may turn into a superpower showdown.

  • China will oppose restoring Taiwan's observer status and will likely seek to mobilize its supporters to shut down any related discussion.
  • The U.S. has long been a strong supporter of Taiwan, and this morning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged WHO member states to give Taiwan observer status.

Go deeper: Johns Hopkins coronavirus map changes "Taiwan" to "Taipei and environs"

Go deeper