Outcry as World Health Assembly locks out Taiwan under pressure from China | Taiwan

The World Health Assembly has again rejected Taiwan’s request to join its annual gathering amid routine objections from China and despite strong support from a coalition of countries including the US, UK, France and Australia.

The assembly – the forum through which the World Health Organization is governed – on Monday decided not to extend an invitation for Taiwan to attend the 21-30 May event in Geneva as an observer. China and Pakistan spoke against the bid, while the Marshall Islands, Belize, Nauru and Eswatini – four of Taiwan’s 13 formal diplomatic allies – spoke in support.

Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs said its participation in the WHA was a matter of global public health. “Politics should not be allowed to take precedence over professionalism. It is not only unfair and unjust to shut Taiwan out due to Chinese political pressure, but also poses a serious threat to global health.

“No matter how the Chinese Communist party distorts Taiwan’s sovereign status, it cannot change the objective fact of our country’s existence.”

Beijing’s blocking of Taiwan’s participation in global bodies is part of its long-running efforts to isolate Taiwan from the international community. The Chinese government claims Taiwan is a province of China, which it intends to annex, and objects to any bilateral or multilateral engagements that bolster Taiwan’s sovereignty.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs welcomed the WHA decision, claiming that almost 100 countries had affirmed its “one China principle” and objected to Taiwan’s inclusion.

It said Taiwan’s requests were “a political ploy to engage in ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities”. “China also urges certain countries not to pretend to be confused, stop politicising the health issue, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of the Taiwan issue, and stop the erroneous practice of using ‘Taiwan to control China’.”

Last week the Taiwan-based representatives of the UK, US, Australia, France, Japan, Lithuania, Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany issued a joint statement supporting Taiwan’s inclusion.

“Inviting Taiwan as an observer would best exemplify the WHO’s commitment to an inclusive, ‘health for all’ approach to international health cooperation,” their statement said, noting that Taiwan had been given observer status before.

The US mission in Geneva tweeted on Sunday that Taiwan’s isolation from the meeting “undermines inclusive global public health cooperation led by WHO”.

Taiwan’s exclusion reportedly extended to its journalists covering the event. According to the government media organisation CNA, two reporters had been approved for press passes last week, but their access was revoked when they went to pick them up in Geneva on Monday.

The journalists said a UN official told them it was because of pressure from China, and nodded when asked if they “had to report everything to China”, CNA reported.

Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs accused the UN’s Geneva office of having “failed to act impartially” and urged it to not “give in to unreasonable political pressure from certain countries”.

A spokesperson for the WHO said journalist accreditation for entering the UN building was governed by the UN.

Rolando Gómez, chief of press for the UN’s office in Geneva, said: “The United Nations headquarters are open to individuals in possession of identification from a UN member state recognised by the UN general assembly. This is the rule not only for journalists, but for any participant in a UN event – representative of member states, civil society, business, academia – and it is applied in all UN premises around the world.”

Gómez added: “The request for accreditation of these two journalists was not approved but put on hold, waiting for the submission of required documentation.”

During the pandemic, critics accused the WHO and its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of being too deferential to China, accusations that the WHO and Tedros reject.

In March 2020 an interview by Hong Kong media with a senior WHO adviser went viral, after the adviser appeared to hang up on the journalist when asked about Taiwan’s pandemic response, and then refused to answer further questions because they had “already talked about China”.

The headline and introduction of this article were amended on 23 May 2023 to correctly refer to the World Health Assembly, rather than the World Health Organization.

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