I missed this yesterday when it happened. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a gathering in Geneva that he had been subjected to months of racist comments and death threats. He claimed the attacks started in Taiwan and that, despite being aware of it, Taiwan’s government did nothing to distance itself from the attacks. Now Taiwan is pushing back on those claims:

The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said the allegations by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus were groundless and demanded an apology from the United Nations official a day after he told reporters in Geneva that Taiwan has been abetting a campaign of racist slurs and death threats against him for the past three months.

Tedros, a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister, has faced growing criticism of his handling of the covid-19 outbreak since January, when the U.N. body repeatedly backed positions espoused by the Chinese government and praised Beijing’s epidemic response.

In the weeks since, Chinese dissidents, anti-Beijing activists and people in Hong Kong and Taiwan have flooded social media with posts that accuse Tedros of lying on behalf of China’s government, as well as cartoons that show the director general blinded by the Chinese Communist Party — a stew of intensely politicized content that at times has veered into abuse…

The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said Thursday it “in no way encouraged” any personal attacks and condemned “any form of discrimination.”

If you follow that link about social media criticism of Dr. Tedros, you’ll see it leads to a petition calling for his resignation from Feb 1.


And almost immediately (about 15 minutes later) there was an accusation that the photo in the petition was racist from someone seeking to defend China’s honor:

I don’t think this one interaction is proof of anything, but it does occur to me that there was a concerted Chinese propaganda effort to label the phrase “Chinese virus” racist. That campaign has been incredibly successful despite the fact that it was largely push back against Chinese propaganda claiming the virus originated with U.S. soldiers. Dr. Tedros now seems to be adopting a similar approach to deflecting criticism of himself. And, coincidentally, China’s foreign ministry is decrying the alleged racist attacks against Dr. Tedros:

Official statements become official news:

Here’s what Dr. Tedros said in Geneva yesterday. As the AP notes, the basis of these claims is all extremely vague. Normally if a high ranking UN official accused diplomats of tacitly engaging in racist attacks, you would expect him to offer some evidence. But not in this case:

“This attack came from Taiwan,” said Tedros, a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister and the WHO’s first African leader.

He said Taiwanese diplomats were aware of the attacks but did not dissociate themselves from them. “They even started criticizing me in the middle of all those insults and slurs,” Tedros said. “I say it today because it’s enough.” The basis of his allegations was unclear.

Underlying all of this is a long-standing dispute over the status of Taiwan. China insists it is a Chinese province while many in Taiwan want independence from China. The WHO has become one of the places where this symbolic battle has played out. And again, coincidentally, China has been pushing back on any suggesting that Taiwan’s situation should change because of the virus:

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday that “we hope the Taiwan authorities will not politicize the epidemic situation or engage in political manipulation.”

He added in written comments after the daily briefing: “Their real intention is to seek independence under the pretext of the pandemic.”

So to sum this all up, Taiwan was an early and frequent critic of Dr. Tedros for his closeness with China and refusal to work directly with Taiwan (at China’s behest). Now, after that criticism was picked up by President Trump, Dr. Tedros suddenly reveals a heretofore unknown campaign of racist attacks emanating from Taiwan with the government of Taiwan’s blessing (he claims). And both Dr. Tedros and China are now denouncing these racist attacks, just as they denounced associating the virus with China as racist (even as they were claiming it originated in the U.S.).

I can’t prove that Dr. Tedros is lying or that China has other motives for pushing this new claim or racism, but it does appear to be a rather convenient way to deflect criticism from both China and Dr. Tedros and redirect it toward Taiwan, a leading critic of both. Here’s the press conference from yesterday queued up to the statement about Taiwan: