Why Taiwan has become a problem for WHO

Taiwan is seen as one of the few places in the world which has successfully stemmed the spread of the coronavirus without resorting to draconian measures.

But despite its efforts, it is still effectively locked out of membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) due to its complex relationship with China.

This all exploded over the weekend when a top WHO official appeared to avoid questions about Taiwan in a TV interview that has gone viral, attracting criticism and even accusations of bias.

What happened?

On Saturday, Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK aired an interview with Bruce Aylward, the WHO assistant director-general, who spoke to journalist Yvonne Tong on a video call.

In the segment, Ms Tong asks if the WHO would reconsider letting Taiwan join the organisation. She is met with a long silence from Mr Aylward, who then says he cannot hear her and asks to move on to another question.

Ms Tong presses him again, saying she would like to talk about Taiwan. At this point, Mr Aylward appears to hang up on her.

When the journalist calls Mr Aylward again, she asks if he could comment on Taiwan's response to the coronavirus.

Mr Aylward then replies: "Well, we've already talked about China."

His last line appeared to mirror China's stance on Taiwan, which is that the island is a breakaway province. Taiwan, however, considers itself an independent country.

What is Taiwan's relationship with the WHO?

Aylward's reaction was widely seen as indicative of the awkward relationship Taiwan has with the WHO, which it is not a member of.

WHO membership is only given to countries that are members of the United Nations - which does not recognise Taiwan - or whose applications are approved by the World Health Assembly.

What this means is that Taiwan has been excluded from emergency meetings and important global expert briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. Taiwanese official Stanley Kao has also said the island has been denied permission to attend the World Health Assembly's annual meetings in recent years.