Taiwan says it didn't need China's permission for WHO meeting on coronavirus

People wearing masks board a train in Taipei on Feb 10, 2020. Taiwan's lack of World Health Organisation membership has been an increasingly sore point for the island amid the virus outbreak. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan's presence at a World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting this week on the coronavirus was the result of direct talks between the island and the body, and did not require China's permission, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday (Feb 12).

The island's lack of WHO membership, due to the objections of China, which considers it a wayward Chinese province and not a separate state, has been an increasingly sore point for Taiwan amid the virus outbreak.

Taiwan has complained it has been unable to get timely information from the WHO and has accused China of passing incorrect information to the organisation about Taiwan's total virus case numbers, which stand at 18. China has more than 44,000.

But in a small diplomatic breakthrough for the island, its health experts were this week allowed to attend an online technical meeting on the virus.

China's Foreign Ministry said that was because China gave approval for Taiwan's participation. Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman Joanne Ou said China was trying to take credit for something it didn't deserve.

"The participation of our experts at this WHO forum was an arrangement made by our government and the WHO directly. It did not need China's approval," Ms Ou added.

Taiwan's experts took part in a personal capacity to avoid political disputes, and did not give their nationality when joining the online forum, she said.

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

Taiwan's WHO exclusion became another point of contention between China and the United States last week, after the US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva told the WHO's executive board that the agency should deal directly with Taiwan's government.

China, which says Beijing adequately represents Taiwan at the WHO, accused the US of a political "hype-up" about the issue.

China and the WHO say they have ensured Taiwan is kept up to date with virus developments and that communication with the island is smooth.

Taiwan's democratically elected government says that it alone has the right to represent the island's 23 million people, that it has never been a part of the People's Republic of China, and that it had no need to be represented by them.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.