The World Health Organization recently declared the novel coronavirus’s emergence a global health emergency necessitating a worldwide response. Yet one corner of the globe has been denied an opportunity to contribute its own expertise to that effort, and to benefit from the expertise of others. At the People’s Republic of China’s behest, Taiwan remains locked out of the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and other international organizations with a role to play in containing the virus. The global community continues to heed Chinese political demands, increasing the likelihood that the virus will find gaps in the global effort to contain it.
In a particularly concerning development in recent days, the ICAO Twitter account has blocked users, including many policy experts from the think tank and academic communities tweeting about Taiwan’s relationship—or lack thereof—with the organization.
To be sure, ICAO is not responsible for Taiwan’s exclusion; the fault there lies squarely with China and its foreign toadies. But ICAO does have a responsibility to explain whether there is a danger in Taiwan’s Flight Information Region (FIR)—which in 2018 served 1.75 million flights and nearly seventy million passengers—laying outside ICAO’s purview and, if so, how it mitigates that danger. In the midst of a global health crisis in which air travel plays a key role, however, ICAO has eschewed that responsibility.
Whether this effort to shut down dialogue on the issue was directed by ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu, a Chinese national, or was the work of an over-eager social media manager is unclear. But in some ways, it is also beside the point.