ICAO excludes Taiwan from cooperation amid Coronavirus, rejects criticism

China Airlines is one of the two large airlines in Taiwan. Photo: © KC Shih

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations (UN) is facing further criticism for blocking critics of its practice to exclude Taiwan from cooperation amid the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

This most recent conflict first started on Tuesday last week, when Jessica Drum, who works for a ‘think tank’ specializing in US-China & Taiwan relations, mentioned the fact that both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the ICAO do not cooperate with Taiwan (officially Republic of China) in any way, despite the ongoing issues with the deadly Coronavirus and its effect on air transport.

Drun called for the two UN agencies to include Taiwan in coordination on such critical problems, like the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, which first started in Wuhan, China.

On Saturday, she then posted an update showing that the official Twitter account of the ICAO has apparently blocked her.

Following her post, thousands of users wrote about their concerns and raised questions regarding the way the two UN agencies appear to treat Taiwan amid the virus outbreak. Those users, which also include various politicians and journalists, were blocked as well by the Montreal-based aviation organization on Twitter.

The ICAO posted a tweet on Monday in which it said: “Irrelevant, compromising and offensive material will be removed and the publisher precluded.” It is not clear how the social media posts directed at the organization fall under this interpretation, as the users, for the most part, did not engage in what the UN body portrays in the statement. The agency’s tweets normally concern civil aviation issues from around the world. Despite that, it retweeted a UNICEF video on cyberbullying shortly after posting its aforementioned statement.

Publicly visible information on Linkedin shows that Qining Guang, Communications Officer at the ICAO, and responsible for the agency’s presence on social media, previously worked at the Civil Aviation Authority of China for 15 years. Back in 2003, she got a double Bachelor from the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, which is directly administered by the foreign affairs ministry of the Chinese government. Guang’s own description of her current occupation includes: “Establish connections with major Chinese outlets through proactive correspondence and visiting Chinese officials to ICAO“.

Furthermore, Fang Liu, Secretary General of the ICAO, also worked for the Chinese Authority before her position at the UN’s aviation organisation.

China is pressuring other countries and international organizations into following its ‘one China’ policy, which does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, even though it is a self-governed democracy. The People’s Republic Of China views Taiwan’s government of more than 23 million people as illegitimate.

Taiwan has not been part of ICAO meetings since 2013.

Wang Ting-yu, a member of the Taiwanese parliament, said that excluding the country from the WHO and ICAO is putting lives at risk amid a virus outbreak: “Blocking people on Twitter might be fun, but blocking Taiwan from WHO & ICAO is not“.

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jaushieh Joseph Wu, also tweeted his comments on the issue.

The country’s largest airport, Taoyuan International (IATA: TPE), handled about 46.5 million passengers in 2018, making it the 17th busiest airport in Asia. It serves as a home base for Taiwanese airlines, including EVA Air (together with regional subsidiary UNI Air) and China Airlines. A new start-up carrier, called Starlux Airlines, recently launched flight operations.

The ICAO did not respond to the content of the criticism regarding the treatment of Taiwan on Twitter and instead opted to continue blocking users on the social media platform. One user received a ‘Minions’ GIF from an animation movie as a reply from the organization’s account. Many other people who were critical of the ICAO’s Taiwan practice were called ‘spam’ in official replies.

International Flight Network (IFN) has reached out to the International Civil Aviation Organization with several question on the matter.

Chief of Communications of the ICAO Secretary General, Anthony Philbin, told IFN that the aviation organization is “not responsible for the policies governments establish at the UN General Assembly, including the 1971 Resolution which refers to these campaigners’ grievances.

In the 1971 Resolution, the United Nations under Chinese pressure voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the only ‘legitimate’ China and therefore removing Taiwan’s representation at every UN agency. Questions on Taiwan’s representation have been left unanswered ever since. This includes the ICAO.

In his response to IFN, Mr. Philbin did not answer the question if and how the ICAO is cooperating with non-member Taiwan on critical issues in aviation, including for example the recent Coronavirus outbreak. In fact, in an email exchange on Tuesday he did not even mention the name Taiwan or Republic of China (official name for Taiwan) a single time.

Regarding the mass blockades of critics by its official Twitter account, Philbin says: “we felt we were completely warranted in taking the steps we did to defend the integrity of the information and discussions our followers should reasonably expect from our feeds.

He says that the ICAO has “undertaken the very same measures in order to prevent them from asking repeated questions, or make repeated assertions” as it did in “similar attempts of this nature from other campaigners in the past“.