Taiwan pleads for access to key WHO meeting

Taiwan's health and welfare minister Chen Shih-chung said that keeping Taiwan out "violates the fundamental principles of the WHO". PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - Taiwan launched a global appeal Monday (May 21) to be granted access to the World Health Organisation's main annual meeting, after tensions with China led to its exclusion for a second straight year.

China sees self-governing democratic Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification and has used its clout to diminish the island's presence on the world stage since Beijing-sceptic President Tsai Ing-wen took power in May 2016.

Last year was the first time in eight years that Taiwan was not granted access to the World Health Assembly (WHA), which opened its 71st edition in Geneva on Monday.

"We are here to plead for the support of all nations and anyone who cares about improving global health to rally for Taiwan's formal participation in the World Health Assembly," Taiwan's health and welfare minister, Chen Shih-chung, told reporters.

Speaking at a Geneva hotel less than a kilometre (mile) away from the UN's European headquarters, as the WHA was set to open, Chen said that keeping Taiwan out "violates the fundamental principles of the WHO."

WHO has said it was not in a position to invite Taiwan until a "cross-straits understanding" with Beijing was restored.

Chen declined to answer directly when asked if he wanted WHO to circumvent Beijing and give Taiwan a special invitation.

But he insisted that excluding Taiwan was not just a blow to 23 million Taiwanese but could also hurt "tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of global citizens," given the island's significant technical and financial contribution to global health.

People "who don't care about politics or diplomatic squabbled... do not deserve to be pawns in a game with such serious stakes," Chen said.

China's foreign ministry has said that the island was only able to attend the WHA from 2009-2016 because the previous Taiwan government had a consensus with Beijing that there is only "one China".

While the island's former administration touted the agreement as enabling cross-straits relations to flourish without compromising Taiwan's sovereignty, Beijing saw it as meaning Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single China.

President Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party have refused to acknowledge the principle, which Beijing sees as the bedrock for relations.

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