China Again Blocks Taiwan’s Participation in World Health Meeting

By Patrick Goodenough | May 14, 2019 | 4:26am EDT
The WHO World Health Assembly meets in Geneva. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, File)

( – When the World Health Organization holds its annual general assembly in Geneva this month, Taiwan will not be present, as a major U.N. body once again falls in line with China’s effort to isolate a country which it regards as a rebellious province.

This will be the third consecutive year that Beijing has blocked an invitation for Taiwan to participate at an observer in the WHO’s World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. Taiwan’s government says its exclusion makes the island’s 23 million people more vulnerable to pandemics.

Only a handful of countries have spoken out in support of Taiwan’s participation.

A WHO spokesman pointed out that Taiwan’s 16 diplomatic allies are dwarfed by the 178 member-states that endorse Beijing’s “one-China” policy, and so there is little chance of Taiwan being invited absent China’s consent.

Taiwan was ejected from the WHA in the early 1970s, after it lost the “China” seat at the U.N. to the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC). Beijing then became the sole representative of China in the world body and its various agencies and organs.

From 1997 onwards, the self-governing island each year sought observer status at the WHA – the WHO’s supreme decision-making body – but China would not relent.

After a government viewed more sympathetically in Beijing took power in Taipei in 2008, China agreed it could participate as an observer at the WHA – under the name “Chinese Taipei,” to comply with Beijing’s stance that the island is part of “one China.”

But after the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returned to power under President Tsai Ing-Wen in 2015, the PRC reverted to its previous stance of blocking WHA invitations.

Since taking power, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last week, the DPP “has been putting political calculations above the Taiwan people’s welfare and entrenching itself in the secessionist position of Taiwan independence.”

“In a move to uphold the one-China principle and the solemnity and authority of General Assembly and WHA resolutions, China has decided not to allow Taiwan’s participation in this year’s WHA.”

Geng denied that Taiwan’s exclusion leaves it vulnerable, saying the PRC does allow the island to send experts to attend WHO technical meetings.

“It is a false claim that Taiwan’s absence from the WHA will cause a gap in international epidemic prevention,” he said, accusing the DPP of lying and creating a “pretext in an attempt to attend the WHA.”

But Taiwan’s foreign ministry condemned the decision as “malicious” and warned that it “only serves to reignite the Taiwanese people’s anger and resentment” towards Beijing.

The ministry said that between 2009 and 2018 Taiwanese experts had applied to attend 165 WHO technical meetings, but were only invited to 49.

In language bound to reinforce Beijing’s dim view of the DPP, it added that Taiwan “is not part of China” and “has never been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government,” and that those facts would not change, despite “China’s relentless bullying.”

‘A member-state decision’

China’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communist forces. The PRC views the island as a renegade province that will be reincorporated into “one China” eventually, by force if necessary.

Asked the reason for Taiwan’s non-invitation to this year’s WHA, which runs from May 20-28, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier recalled a 1972 resolution recognizing the PRC as the “only legitimate representative of China to the WHO.”

“Given that participation in the WHA is ultimately a member-state decision, the result of this resolution, and the support it continues to have, is that, in the absence of an understanding among those concerned that could form the basis of an invitation, Taiwanese observers would have to be invited by the collective action of the WHA.”

That did not happen in 2017 and 2018, and Taiwan was therefore not invited.

Lindmeier noted that the vast majority of WHO member-states – 178 out of 194 – observe the one-China policy, while Taiwan has only 16 diplomatic allies.

Those numbers suggest that “the WHA is unlikely to agree to invite Taiwanese observers in the absence of an understanding among those concerned.”

Lindmeier said Taiwanese experts had been invited to four WHO technical meetings this year and five in 2018, and said that, “in the event of an outbreak or health emergency, WHO would work with Taiwanese health officials, as necessary, to facilitate an effective response.”

The U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year adopted a resolution expressing support for Taiwan’s WHA participation, after its sponsor, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) called for a “firm stand in the face of Beijing’s increasingly oppressive tactics.”

In a recent phone briefing, Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale reaffirmed that the U.S. supports “meaningful participation” by Taiwan in international organizations that require statehood as a condition for membership.

Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, tweeted Tokyo’s support, citing a need to ensure there are not “geographical gaps in countermeasures against infectious diseases.”

“It would be detrimental to world health if Taiwan remains a ‘blank spot’ on the world map of health,” said the German government, while Australia said Taiwanese people should be able to participate in the global health system.

In past years, Taiwanese health experts have blamed China’s stance for the loss of lives on the island during health emergencies.

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