Taiwan hits back at World Health Organization chief's claims of racism

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Taiwanese officials on Thursday pushed back strongly on allegations from World Heath Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that the Asian island off the coast of China was involved in a months-long racist smear job against him.

On Wednesday, Tedros, who is Ethiopian, claimed Taiwan's foreign ministry was behind racist threats against him and Africans in general.

"This attack came from Taiwan," he said, claiming the country's diplomats had been aware of the attacks but did nothing to stop them. "They even started criticizing me in the middle of all those insults and slurs. I say it today because it's enough."

It was unclear what "attacks" Tedros was alluding to, but Tedros has repeatedly been taken to task for favoring China, overlooking Beijing's shifting timelines and questionable data related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Xinhua News Agency, the single most powerful arm of China's state-run media, tweeted it's support for Tedros.

"China strongly condemns personal attacks and racist words and deeds against WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry said."

China, which has refused to acknowledge Taiwan's existence for 70 years, has been known to lean on world leaders to keep Taiwan out of international groups like the WHO.

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Taiwan's ministry claimed Tedros' "unprovoked and untrue accusations not only differ from reality, they have also seriously harmed our government and our people. This kind of slander is extremely irresponsible."

Going a step further, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen invited Tedros to visit the island. The gesture is particularly piercing because the WHO has frozen out Taiwan for years, refusing, like China, to acknowledge its existence.

"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," Tsai said in a post on her official Facebook page. "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."

Located about 80 miles off China's coast, Taiwan has acted as an independent nation for more than seven decades. China, however, has vowed to bring it back under Beijing's control through diplomatic or military means.

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Last week, China's complex relationship with Taiwan and its influence over the World Health Organization played out in real-time when a top WHO official avoided questions about Taiwan during an interview. Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK aired an interview with Bruce Aylward, WHO's assistant director-general.

When asked if Taiwan could join the organization, Aylward didn't respond. Then, he claimed he couldn't hear the reporter and asked her to move on to another question. When the reporter pressed him on the topic, Aylward hung up on her. When the reporter called him back and asked him again to comment on Taiwan's response to coronavirus, Aylward replied, "We've already talked about China."

Much to China's chagrin, Taiwan has outperformed Beijing when it comes to international efforts to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy, said China's "imposed isolation of  Taiwan is counterproductive as the world struggles to fight the coronavirus pandemic." He added, "Taipei's response to the outbreak has been characterized as exemplary."

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After being iced out by the WHO, Taiwan, which is about four times smaller than Florida, has had to rely on itself to fight a number of different public health issues.

Taiwan was ahead of the coronavirus curve and, when it came to transparency, did the exact opposite of China. And as Beijing was getting hit with negative reviews over the quality of its COVID-19 testing kits, Taiwan quickly picked up the slack and began donating millions of masks and other aid to hard-hit countries.