U.S. urges WHO chief to invite Taiwan to assembly

FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting In Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.S. mission in Geneva urged World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday to invite Taiwan to a major meeting the body is hosting next week expected to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We encourage the WHO to expand its efforts to offer Taiwan increased meaningful cooperation and collaboration with the organization, and this (an invitation to participate) would be a needed step in that direction,” it said in a statement.

Washington has been deeply critical of the WHO and its boss Tedros for its handling of the pandemic, saying it is too close to China, and plans to withdraw.

Backed by the United States, Taiwan has stepped up lobbying this year to take part in the meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body as an observer, angering China, which claims the democratically-run island as its own territory.

Taiwan, which was praised internationally for quickly containing the coronavirus, was not invited to an earlier meeting by the same body in May and it agreed to put off the issue until later in the year. Western diplomats say it is unlikely to change now.

Asked about next week’s meeting of the World Health Assembly at a Friday news briefing, the WHO’s Principal Legal Officer Steven Solomon said: “Taiwanese involvement at the WHA as an observer continues to be a question for member states”. The body has previously said it has no mandate to invite Taiwan since members disagree on the island’s participation.

The virtual meeting of 194 member states is set to focus on COVID-19 and related health issues. The WHO cooperates with Taiwan on various health matters including on aspects of the pandemic.

“There has been an active, really wonderful exchange with colleagues and scientists from Taiwan’s CDC and others,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for COVID-19, calling scientific collaboration with them “really great”.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Kim Coghill and Alex Richardson