May 18, 2020 / 7:00 AM / 7 days ago

Taiwan says did not receive WHO meeting invite, issue off the table for now

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Despite strong efforts Taiwan did not get invited to this week’s meeting of a key World Health Organization (WHO) body due to Chinese pressure, its foreign minister said on Monday, adding they had agreed to put the issue off until later this year.

Non-WHO member Taiwan had been lobbying to take part in a meeting later on Monday of WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, saying that to lock it out was to create a gap in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan has said it wanted to share with the world its successful experience at fighting the coronavirus, having only reported 440 cases and seven deaths thanks to early detection and prevention work.

But China, which considers democratically-ruled Taiwan its own with no right to attend international bodies as a sovereign state, strongly objected to Taiwan taking part in the assembly unless it accepted it was part of China. This, the Taipei government refused to do.

“Despite all our efforts and an unprecedented level of international support, Taiwan has not received an invitation to take part,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses deep regret and strong dissatisfaction that the World Health Organization Secretariat has yielded to pressure from the Chinese government and continues to disregard the right to health of the 23 million people of Taiwan.”

Taiwan’s Presidential Office also expressed anger, saying Taiwanese have “the absolute right” to participate in the international community and that the island would not bow to Chinese pressure.

“We solemnly urge the World Health Organization Secretariat to reject Beijing’s inappropriate interference,” Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang told a news conference.

Both the WHO and China say Taiwan has been provided with the help and information it needs during the pandemic, which Taiwan has strongly disputed.

The United States has repeatedly clashed with China over its refusal to allow Taiwan full access to the body, helping to further fuel tension between Washington and Beijing.

Taiwan attended the assembly as an observer from 2009-2016 but China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who China views as a separatist, an accusation she rejects.

Foreign Minister Wu said that Taiwan had agreed the issue of its participation would be put off until later in the year so the shortened assembly can focus on the coronavirus.

“Understandably, countries want to use the limited time available to concentrate on ways of containing the pandemic,” he said.

“For this reason, like-minded nations and diplomatic allies have suggested that the proposal be taken up later this year when meetings will be conducted normally, to make sure there will be full and open discussion,” Wu said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry and Tom Hogue

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