Taiwan says 'not yet' received invite for key WHO meeting

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan has “not yet” received an invitation to a meeting this month of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, but will strive take part, the government said on Monday.

People wear face masks as a mandatory precaution for riding on public transportations amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak while boarding on and off a metro in Taipei, Taiwan, April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO membership, due to objections from China, which considers the island one of its provinces, has infuriated Taipei, which says its exclusion has created a glaring gap in the global fight against the coronavirus.

The United States has supported Taiwan’s participation at the assembly as an observer, adding to tension with China over its handling of the new coronavirus.

Taiwan attended the assembly as an observer from 2009-2016 when Taipei-Beijing relations warmed, but China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who China views as a separatist. She rejects that.

The WHO said last week the assembly will take place virtually from May 18.

Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the government had “not yet received an invitation from WHO” and was “still awaiting” it so a delegation could attend as an observer and share the island’s experience in fighting the outbreak.

Taiwan has reported far fewer cases of the new coronavirus than many of its neighbours, due to early and effective detection and prevention work.

“Although the current situation we are facing is still very difficult, the government will never give up, and will join with allies and countries with similar ideals to continue to strive until the last moment,” Ou said, referring to efforts to take part in the meeting.

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

The government and diplomatic sources have said Taiwan’s chances of taking part are very slim because of China’s position.

The health ministers of Taiwan and the United States discussed Taiwan’s bid to join the assembly last week.

China says Taiwan can only take part in the WHO under Beijing’s “one China” policy, in which Taiwan would have to accept that it is part of China, something Tsai’s government will not do.

In a statement on Saturday, China’s mission in Geneva, where the WHO is based, expressed strong opposition to the Taiwan-U.S. call last week.

“The Taiwan region is part of China. The Taiwan region’s participation in international bodies, including the activities of the WHO, must be handled in accordance with the ‘one China’ principle,” it said.

Beijing has repeatedly condemned Washington for seeking to “politicise” the issue of Taiwan’s participation at the WHO, and both China and the WHO say Taiwan has been provided with the help and information it needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan says it has only received limited information and that the WHO ignored its initial enquiries about the outbreak.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel