BEIJING (Reuters) - Taiwan will fail in its bid to join a key meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) amid efforts to rein in the novel coronavirus as its efforts are based on politics, not health concerns, China said on Friday.
Self-ruled Taiwan has been lobbying to attend, as an observer, the May 18-19 ministerial meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), and has won high-level support from the United States and several U.S. allies, including Japan.
China, under its “one China” policy, considers Taiwan a breakaway province ineligible for state-to-state relations or membership of bodies like the WHO. Taiwan has diplomatic relations with only 15 countries, almost all small and developing.
Six of the WHO’s 194 member states had proposed inviting Taiwan as an observer to the WHA meeting, the WHO’s principal legal officer, Steven Solomon, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva on Friday.
He named eSwatini (Swaziland), Marshall Islands, Nicaragua, Palau, St. Lucia and Paraguay, all of which recognise Taiwan over China.
Solomon said that since 1972, the WHA recognised Beijing as “the only legitimate representative of China” to its meetings and added: “That decision still stands.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had “conditional discretion” to issue invitations, provided they are consistent with the WHO constitution and WHA policies, Solomon said.
“The only body with authority, control and power is the Assembly itself. It’s not the director-general, it’s not the secretariat of WHO,” he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party was trying to use the pandemic for political purposes.
“Its so-called attempts to get into the WHO and participate in the WHA are absolutely not for the health and well-being of Taiwan’s people but are through-and-through political manipulation, and will not succeed,” she said.
Taiwan says its exclusion from the WHO has created a dangerous gap in the global fight against the coronavirus.
On Friday, it’s vice premier, Chen Chi-mai, told an event hosted by a Washington think tank that Taipei would continue to work with the United States on WHO participation.
“We believe Taiwan is capable of contributing to WHO work, including response to coronavirus pandemic,” he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies by teleconference.
At the same event, the U.S. deputy health secretary, Eric Hargan, praised Taiwan’s work in containing the spread of the virus and added:
“It is deeply disappointing that the World Health Organization has excluded Taiwan from participating in the WHO, and other WHO technical experts meetings. We hope they will return to the practice of inviting Taiwan as an observer at this year’s WHA.”
He said there had been “some positive signs from other countries,” but did not elaborate.
Taipei and Washington say Tedros has the power, should he so wish, to invite Taiwan to the WHA. But diplomatic sources in Taiwan say he is unlikely to do so if China does not approve.
Taiwan’s China-policymaking Mainland Affairs Council on Thursday accused China of “using politics to infringe upon health and human rights” and said the WHO should “not be manipulated by a single country’s political position.”
Taiwan attended the WHA as an observer from 2009-2016 when Taipei-Beijing relations were warmer.
China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whom China views as a separatist, an accusation she rejects.China says it has the right to represent Taiwan on the international stage, and it and the WHO say Taipei has been provided with the help and information it needs during the pandemic, something Taiwan disputes.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Paul Simao