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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will send a delegation to a U.N. health meeting even though it does not have an invitation, the government said on Tuesday, warning China that attempts to exclude it could irreversibly damage ties.
Self-ruled Taiwan has accused Beijing of obstructing its efforts to attend the May 22-31 annual meeting in Geneva of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).
China views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province to be retaken with the use of force if necessary, and says other countries and international organisations should not recognise it or treat as a separate country.
Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, which recognises the "one China" policy centred on Beijing, and it never formally takes part in U.N. meetings. But it has in the past been given observer status at some conferences with Beijing's acquiescence.
Ties between the mainland and the island have worsened since the election last year of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who - unlike the island's previous China-friendly administration - has not acknowledged the "one China" principle.
Beijing warned last year that Taiwan's acceptance of that principle was a condition for the retention of its observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA).
In an unusually assertive stand for the island, its foreign ministry said Chen Shih-chung, minister of health and welfare, would lead a delegation to Geneva "to exchange views" with WHA members on global health and safety.
Taiwan's top China policymaking office said Beijing's "rigid and confrontational" approach would have serious consequences.
"Beijing authorities should carefully consider the serious consequences of insisting that Taiwan not be allowed to participate in the WHA and to continue to pressure Taiwan's international space," the island's Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.
That would "result in irreversible damage to cross-Strait relations."
In Geneva, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the matter was not yet resolved although invitations had been sent.
"Officially the deadline has passed but yet it is my understanding that the discussions are still ongoing and we are also on our side waiting for any developments."
"To my understanding the one China policy is a UN-wide accepted policy," he told a regular U.N. briefing.
A Chinese government delegation this month objected to a Taiwan attending a meeting in Australia on conflict diamonds, forcing the removal of Taiwanese delegates.
In September, a U.N. aviation agency snubbed Taiwan by not inviting it to a conference in Canada.
Tsai's DPP said the government would not bow to Chinese pressure.
Taiwan has said its allies and friends such as the United States, Canada and Japan have supported its attendance at the health meeting. It says health should not be politicized and that leaving Taiwan out of dialogue puts the world's health safety-net at risk.
China said on Monday the island's DPP administration should bear "full responsibility" for their absence from the Geneva meeting, due to its refusal to accept "one China".
"This places an obstacle for Taiwan's participation," An Fengshan, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement.
Asked whether China had asked Switzerland to block the entry of the Taiwan delegation, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing: "No matter what the DPP authorities in Taiwan do, they are doomed to fail."
Reporting by J.R. Wu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA; Editing by Robert Birsel and John Stonestreet