U.S. clashes with China over Taiwan's place at the WHO table

TAIPEI/GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States and China clashed on Thursday over the issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from World Health Organization (WHO) meetings, where it is represented by China, with Beijing accusing Washington of political “hype-up”.

FILE PHOTO: Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala in Taipei, Taiwan January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yimou Lee/File Photo

Earlier on Thursday, Taiwan accused China of providing the WHO with wrong information about the number of coronavirus cases on the island, after the WHO published incorrect case numbers earlier this week.

Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva that the agency should deal directly with Taiwan authorities.

“It is a technical imperative that WHO present visible public health data on Taiwan as an affected area and engage directly with Taiwan public health authorities on actions,” he said.

Japan appeared to support this. Ambassador Ken Okaniwa told the forum: “We should not make a geographical vacuum by creating a situation where a specific region cannot join WHO even as an observer”.

China responded sharply, with China’s delegate saying there is ample cooperation between China and Taiwan on the virus epidemic and “we feel that the Chinese central government can say it is very sincere in protecting the health and well-being of Taiwan compatriots”.

“I would like to reiterate that Taiwan is part of China, this fact cannot be changed,” the delegate, Qi Daihai, said.

Taiwan is not a WHO member because China, which views the island as a wayward Chinese province and not a country, says it adequately represents Taiwan in the organization.

Democratically governed Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China - its formal name - and has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.

“China requests that the relevant countries should respect the guidance of the chairman to strictly abide by the rules of procedure of the conference,” Qi told the Geneva forum.

“And stop hyping-up about the so-called Taiwan issue. Don’t waste our time.”

On Tuesday, the WHO corrected the number of cases reported on the island after having said there were 13. At the time Taiwan had only 10. Taiwan said on Thursday there were now 16 cases.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told a news conference that the crux of the problem was China giving the wrong case number details to the WHO.

“This was wrong information that was provided by China which created the mistake,” she said.

“We beseech the WHO not to put Taiwan’s information under China, creating mistake after mistake after mistake.”

Taiwan says the main consequence of that so far has been Italy including Taiwan in its ban on flights from China.

China’s foreign ministry, in a faxed statement to Reuters, said the case numbers it reported to the WHO for Taiwan all came from Taiwan’s government.

“If there are mistakes, this is the relevant authorities in the Taiwan region deliberately reporting mistakes to us,” it said.

The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the figures.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Frances Kerry