Coronavirus: Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanks Jacinda Ardern for 'speaking up' for Taiwan

The Taiwanese President has thanked Jacinda Ardern for "speaking up for" the Asian state's participation at the World Health Organization. 

Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, has been near-universally praised for its efforts in fighting COVID-19, having only recorded 467 cases despite its close proximity to China, where the illness originated. 

Throughout the pandemic, that success has fuelled calls for the state - which China considers its territory - to be an observer at the WHO, something Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has supported

"In the interests [of] international health, you want every country in an international organisation designed to improve the world's health. It's just logic," he said in May.

"Personally, you've got to have every population in the world in the WHO if it's to have any meaning."

New Zealand Prime Minister last week spoke to the Chinese Business Summit about some of the "different perspectives" Aotearoa has to China, which opposes Taiwan having a role at WHO.

"The New Zealand Government takes a stance where as representatives of the New Zealand people we think that the public has a direct and a resounding interest in the outcome," she added. 

"As you know, this has come to the fore recently around developments like Hong Kong's new security law; the situation of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang province; and Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization."

Those comments were picked up by the Taiwan News media outlet on Wednesday, with the headline: "New Zealand Prime Minister reiterates importance of including Taiwan in WHO". 

Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese President, later tweeted her gratitude. 

"We truly appreciate @jacindaardern speaking up for #Taiwan's participation in the @WHO. We cherish the common values we share with #NewZealanders, that is democracy, human rights, & rule of law, principles that are important to who we are as Taiwanese."

The Chinese Foreign Minister's spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to Ardern's comments last week, saying New Zealand and China are important partners, but that the Middle Kingdom wouldn't stand for "interference" in internal matters. 

"I need to stress that we stand firmly against foreign interference in China's domestic affairs under the pretext of Hong Kong, Xinjiang or human rights. China is resolutely determined to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests."

After Peters' earlier comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed "strong dissatisfaction" and said China had made "stern representations" with New Zealand.

"China urges New Zealand to strictly abide by the 'one China' principle and immediately stop making wrong statements on Taiwan, to avoid damaging our bilateral relationship."

The relationship between New Zealand and China has been a key focus this week after Aotearoa suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over the imposition of a new national security law by Beijing.