Updated: May 15, 2020 11:35:12 am
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has participated in at least seven group phone calls with counterparts in the US, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Vietnam since March 20 — once every week — as the international community debates whether to let Taiwan attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer.
Four of these seven countries — US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand — are signatories to a demarche, urging the World Health Organisation (WHO) to allow Taiwan to be admitted as an observer because its input will be “meaningful and important”. Other signatories to this demarche are Canada, France, Germany, the UK.
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China is opposing the move as the US leads a group of powerful countries — all members of the UN Security Council except Russia — to support Taiwan’s claim.
South Block’s dilemma
India has a growing relationship with Taiwan but a much larger relationship with China. Committed to the One-China policy, New Delhi has high stakes in its ties with Beijing. The pandemic crisis presents an opportunity to leverage its position on Taipei vis-a-vis Beijing, but that’s a call South Block has to take.
India, which has traditionally stuck to a One-China policy — in short, it considers Taiwan a part of China — has not yet taken a stand, but has been in conversation with some of Taiwan’s advocates as well.
These talks come at a time when tensions have been rekindled on the Line of Actual Control following clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in Pangong Tso, a lake in eastern Ladakh, and Naku La, a high mountain pass in Sikkim. On the weekly phone conversations among the seven countries, the Ministry of External Affairs said the idea is “to share ideas and best practices among these countries in the Indo-Pacific region for responding to the unique and complex challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Among the discussion points is “coordinated response and assistance in the immediate neighbourhood; and working with each other in the multilateral fora,” the MEA said.
“They have underlined the need for a new template of globalization and for international institutions to reflect contemporary realities,” it said.
An official source said a decision will be taken “depending on how the formal agenda evolves”. “We can’t say anything more at this point. A decision will be taken closer to the date,” the source said.
On May 7, Geneva-based ambassadors from eight countries — US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand — issued a joint demarche to the WHO, pushing for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHA. Led by Washington and Tokyo, the group includes six of the world’s 10 largest economies and four of China’s top trading partners.
These countries have made out a case for Taipei’s admission: Taiwan has managed to control the pandemic in an exemplary manner despite being in close proximity to mainland China.
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, there have been only 440 cases and 7 deaths in Taiwan. In contrast, China, which first reported the pandemic, has seen 84,000 cases and about 4,600 deaths.
Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly as a non-voting observer from 2009 to 2016. But China scuttled Taiwan’s presence after Tsai Ing-wen, who challenged China, was elected President in 2016. She was re-elected early this year and her second term will begin on May 20, two days after WHA’s decision on May 18.
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On Thursday, Ji Rong, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, underlined the One-China policy.
“We urge the relevant Indian media take a correct stance on issues of core interests concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, adhere to the one-China principle, do not provide platform for ‘Taiwan independence’ forces, and avoid sending wrong messages to the public,” Ji Rong said.
India has also engaged with the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation this week, participating in a meeting of SCO Foreign Ministers on Wednesday.