Taiwan will continue its bid to join the WHO: Taiwan's Foreign Minister

Taiwan has not been invited to the World Health Assembly since President Tsai Ing-Wen stepped into office four years ago. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Taiwan will not give up on joining the World Health Organisation (WHO), said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Thursday (May 21) - two days after the World Health Assembly (WHA) prevented the nation from taking part in its virtual two-day conference.

Mr Wu told Parliament: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to monitor (Taiwan's bid to participate), as the WHO is the only health organisation on a global level."

The week has seen tense exchanges between Taiwan, the United States and China once more over the WHA's refusal to invite Taiwan as an observer at the conference, a role it carried out from 2009 to 2016, when the China-friendly Kuomintang was in power and former President Ma Ying-jeou in office.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo slammed the WHA and WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for bowing to pressure from China, saying on Monday that his country "condemns Taiwan's exclusion" from the WHA.

"At a time when the world continues to struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic, we need multilateral institutions to deliver on their stated missions and to serve the interests of all member states, not to play politics while lives are at stake," said Mr Pompeo in a statement.

"The Director-General's lack of independence deprives the Assembly of Taiwan's renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO's credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most."

US Health Secretary Alex Azar also called for Taiwan's participation, saying it could help "bring the helpful perspective regarding their effective and exemplary response (to the Covid-19 pandemic)", remarks echoed by a US State Department spokesperson.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who began her second and final term in office on Wednesday, also expressed indignation: "The WHO's secretariat has again, under pressure, refused to invite Taiwan to attend the WHA, and I would like to use this opportunity to express my solemn protest.

"Refusing Taiwan's participation because of political factors does not conform to the common interests of the international community."

Taiwan hasn't been invited to the WHA since Ms Tsai stepped into office four years ago. This year, 14 countries backed its participation, including the US, Japan and 12 of Taiwan's 15 diplomatic allies - all WHO member states.

Taiwan had been able to observe under the name of "Chinese Taipei" at the World Health Assembly between 2009 and 2016 because both sides of the Taiwan Strait agreed to uphold the "1992 Consensus" and the One China Policy, said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman of China's Taiwan Affairs Office on Tuesday.

In spite of Ms Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party expressing the wish to participate via its so-called allies, Mr Ma noted: "All has failed in the end because the fact that 'there is only one China in the world' is unquestionable and unchangeable, even for an overbearing country like the US."

The Taiwan Affairs Office also criticised Taiwan for being "the best at hiding news about the outbreak", a comment Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Centre head Chen Shih-chung disputed on Thursday.

"(Our) strategy has been about honesty, humbleness and transparency since day one. I believe history will one day restore the truth," said Mr Chen.

Taiwanese citizens have expressed disappointment at Taiwan's exclusion from the WHA.

"Of course I'm furious, but we're also all kind of used to this," said Ms Huang, a 34 year-old artist. "What we can do now is support the government the best we can. The WHO? I feel like it hasn't been doing much (in the pandemic)."

Antique dealer Hsieh Ching-liang, 42, noted: "I think in order for us to join international organisations, we need even more support from other countries, but (support Taiwan has received this year) is a good start ... and we need to do more to prove that Taiwan is an influential force."

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