(CNSNews.com) – Amid firm Chinese opposition, at least 13 countries are now backing a proposal that the World Health Organization’s annual World Health Assembly, meeting later this month, invite Taiwan to take part as an observer.
WHO principal legal officer Steven Solomon at a press briefing in Geneva did not name the 13 countries, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week called publicly on other countries to support Taiwan’s participation at the WHA, beginning on May 18 and taking place in a virtual format this year.
Other countries that have spoken publicly in support of Taiwan this year include Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Taiwan’s small handful of diplomatic allies – 15 developing countries whose recognition of Taiwan means China refuses to have ties with them – are generally also supportive of its participation at the WHA.
China views Taiwan as a rebellious province and part of “one China,” a stance with which most of the international community largely complies.
Since being ejected from the United Nations in 1971 – when the General Assembly voted to give the “China” seat to the communist People’s Republic of China and expelled Taiwan – the self-governing island has not been welcome at the annual WHA, the WHO’s top decision-making body.
Only between 2009 and 2016 was it allowed to attend, since China consented during the tenure of a Taiwanese government regarded relatively benignly by Beijing.
Taiwan, today a thriving democracy ranked by the IMF the world’s 20th largest economy by GDP (PPP), continues to be isolated, despite China’s insistence that it takes responsibility for the island and its 23 million people – a claim strongly disputed by Taiwan’s government.
This year’s bid for WHA participation comes amid the coronavirus pandemic that had its origins in China late last year. Taiwan’s response to the outbreak has been widely praised, in stark contrast to China’s, which the U.S. and some others accuse of mishandling and attempting to cover up, especially at its early stages.
Labeling WHO officials overly deferential to China, President Trump has suspended U.S. funding to the agency, pending a review.
At Monday’s WHO press briefing, officials once again fielded questions on the issue of Taiwan’s participation at the assembly, and repeated the line that it was an issue for the 194 WHO member-states, not for the secretariat headed by director-general Tedros Adhanom.
After reading from the 1972 WHO resolution that kicked out Taiwan (a year after the General Assembly did so in New York), Solomon said that WHO directors-general “only extend invitations [to non-member entities] when it’s clear that member-states support doing so.”
In the case of Taiwan, he said, “instead of clear support there are divergent views among member-states and no basis, therefore no mandate, for the DG to extend an invitation.”
“A proposal has been made by 13 states now, that the assembly itself make a decision on an invitation,” he continued. “That is procedurally how it is supposed to work under the [WHO] constitution. All 194 member-states can consider the issue collectively, in accordance with the rules of procedure.”
‘Out-and-out political manipulation’
On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed “by unanimous consent” a resolution, authored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and co-sponsored by 15 Republicans and seven Democrats, designed to strengthen U.S. efforts to support Taiwan’s observer status at the WHA.
The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees last week signed joint letters to more than 50 countries, urging them to support Taiwan at the WHA.
“Given what the world has endured as a result of COVID-19, U.N. member states joining together to insist that Taiwan be invited to the upcoming virtual WHA session in May 2020 is the right place to start,” they wrote.
Recipients included European and other close U.S. allies, countries across Asia, and Taiwanese allies.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry thanked the lawmakers, saying strong U.S. backing for its bid “plays a pivotal role in cultivating support for Taiwan’s inclusion in international organizations.”
Beijing, however, shows no sign of relenting on the issue.
“China’s position is clear and consistent,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing on Monday. “The one-China principle must be observed.”
“Based on this principle, the central government of China has made proper arrangements for Taiwan region’s participation in global health events, which ensures that the Taiwan region can promptly and effectively respond to local and global public health incidents,” he said.
Zhao accused Taiwanese authorities are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to push its campaign.
“The timing reveals its true motive, which is to use the current outbreak to seek Taiwan independence,” he charged. “It is out-and-out political manipulation.”