May 18, 2009 / 7:24 PM / 11 years ago

Taiwan hopes WHO assembly will help boost its profile

* Taiwan eyes greater role at World Health Organisation

* Participating at WHO congress for first time in 38 years

* Some demonstrators unhappy with observer status

GENEVA, May 18 (Reuters) - Taiwan hopes its participation at the World Health Organisation’s annual meeting this week will boost its international profile after nearly four decades on the sidelines of public health diplomacy.

"Taiwan’s participation in WHO activities is a major breakthrough that will help enhance domestic health care standards, promote the development of the local medical and pharmaceutical industries, and connect Taiwan to the rest of the world," Taiwan Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan said in a speech.

Taiwan is participating in the U.N. agency’s congress for the first time in 38 years after having reached an agreement with Beijing that allows 15 people to represent the self-ruled island under the name of Chinese Taipei.

The move is seen as a rare diplomatic opportunity for Taiwan, which is not a United Nations member but is represented at the World Trade Organisation under the Chinese Taipei title.

One Taiwanese delegate told journalists that being observer was an important step towards broadening Taiwan’s involvement in the international arena.

But about half a dozen protesters interrupted the WHO’s annual assembly on Monday, with one demonstrator shouting "Taiwan is not part of China!"

Ching-chuan said at the news briefing that 93 percent of Taiwan’s population of 23 million said it should participate in the assembly, with 73 percent saying the name Chinese Taipei was "acceptable."

"I am not satisfied about this name, but to participate is more important than the name. We can participate and we benefit from that. Everyone has the right to express their views, but they should abide by the laws here," Ching-chuan said.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, using force if necessary.

Taipei has long argued its exclusion from the WHO and its meetings has made it tough to handle major health issues such as the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). (Reporting by Katie Reid; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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