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Taiwan activists urge China not to politicize U.N. health meeting

TAIPEI (Reuters) - China should not politicize Taiwan’s participation in a U.N. health meeting, Taiwan health activists said on Monday, and China’s president should “do the right thing” and let the island attend for the benefit of global health.

Self-ruled Taiwan wants to attend the May 22-31 annual meeting of the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, but has accused Beijing of obstructing its efforts to secure an invitation.

Diplomatically isolated Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, which recognises “one China” centred on Beijing. China, in turn, views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province to be taken back with the use of force, if necessary.

Taiwan has said health should not be politicized and leaving the island out of global dialogue on health puts the world’s health safety-net at risk.

“From a health profession view, if you have a large gap of Taiwan’s 23 million people, then you cannot do it well,” Michael Ying-mao Kau, a former deputy foreign minister and now senior fellow at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, told a news briefing.

Medical care and health rights are part of human rights, he said.

“Xi Jinping of course has political considerations, but he is also a rational decision-maker. I believe our protest, our appeal should give everyone a chance to wake up, to do the right thing,” Kau said.

The appeal from Taiwan comes after a period of strained relations between the island and the mainland, which began when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won an election a year ago.

Tsai has said she wants peace with China, but has not conceded to Beijing’s “one China” principle, which recognises Taiwan is a part of China.

Beijing warned last year that acceptance of the “one China” principle was a condition for Taiwan’s attendance.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang restated that position on Monday, when asked about the possibility of an invitation for Taiwan, adding at a regular briefing that China firmly opposed a “few individual countries” that had “made remarks” about Taiwan’s attendance.

He did not elaborate.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the DPP administration should bear “full responsibility” for their absence from the World Health Assembly, due to their refusal to accept the “one China” principle.

“This places an obstacle for Taiwan’s participation,” said office spokesman An Fengshan, in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

The Taiwan United Nations Alliance non-governmental organisation said it would appeal to the WHO to let Taiwan become a formal observer, “and to not be disturbed by political factors”, alliance president Michael M. Tsai, a former Taiwanese defence minister, told the news briefing.

Taiwan’s President Tsai has thrown her support behind the push, making Taiwan’s case in posts on her Twitter account.

She told Reuters in an interview on April 27 the issue was an important benchmark for ties between the two sides.

Reporting by J.R. Wu in TAIWAN, additional reporting by Christian Shepherd and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel