Grant Robertson avoids confirming NZ backing Taiwan for role at WHO

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has evaded giving a definitive answer on whether the New Zealand Government wants Taiwan to join the World Health Organization (WHO).

Taiwan currently isn't part of the WHO or an observer due to diplomatic pressure from China but some countries have expressed interest in them joining to share their successful response to COVID-19.

On Thursday Foreign Minister Winston Peters called Taiwan a "standout world success story" and said New Zealand was onboard to reinstate the island as a WHO observer.

But when questioned during Friday's press conference, Robertson said it could be helpful to have Taiwan as part of the WHO.

"As indicated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, New Zealand thinks that Taiwan has something to offer the WHO right at the moment," he said.

"Clearly they are a country which has employed quite successful methods for dealing with the virus, they've had a number of their epidemiologists and public health experts who provided a great deal of advice which many countries have benefited from. 

"They have been an observer at the WHO in the past and I think in this time of the post-COVID-19 crisis there is room for them to be there again."

When asked by a journalist to give a yes or no answer as to whether the Government wants Taiwan to be allowed on, Robertson said he was just "playing with words".

Taiwan has been praised for its approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initial projections published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated the island was likely to have the second-highest number of coronavirus cases worldwide, due to its close proximity to mainland China.

However, despite China having over 80,000 confirmed cases, Taiwan has only had 440 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6 deaths as of May 8, according to John Hopkins University data.

Experts have applauded their "aggressive, pre-emptive approach" without having to implement an island-wide lockdown.

The paper credited the island's experience dealing with SARS and MERS as perfect preparation.

However, despite their success, Reuters reported their omission from the WHO has been a major source of anger for the island.

Taiwan says it has been unable to get first-hand information from the WHO which has put lives in danger "for the sake of politics".

They were previously an observer between 2009-2016 when political relations warmed but after a change in President, they were blocked again.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the United States, Canada and Australia are among their supporters to return.