Taiwan makes new push for inclusion in World Health Assembly

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s exclusion from the upcoming World Health Assembly would harm the global response to the coronavirus pandemic and cannot be excused by mere rules of procedure, the island’s health minister said Wednesday.

Chen Shih-chung told international media at a news conference that global health officials “have not been honest and failed in their responsibilities,” in an apparent reference to the U.N. World Health Organization that oversees the assembly.

“As I said since the beginning of the epidemic, no one is able to accurately predict how the situation will be,” Chen said. “So the most important thing in the world pandemic is transparency. Each one has to share what they know about it.”

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has excluded it from the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations. China’s growing influence in the U.N. has made officials wary of crossing it, even while the U.S. has withdrawn from or suspended funding for some of its organizations, including WHO, which it accuses of mishandling the coronavirus outbreak and displaying a pro-China bias.

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Chen said he acknowledged that U.N. member states would have to approve Taiwan taking part at the World Health Assembly, to be held in in Geneva beginning on May 17.

However, he said there were questions as to whether WHO’s “procedural justice was manipulated.”

Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to U.N. institutions in Geneva, said Wednesday that Taiwan had torpedoed its hopes of attending the health assembly, saying the “current local authority sticks to the secessionist policy” and has abandoned the one-China policy.

“They themselves closed the door,” Chen told reporters in Geneva. “They destroyed a political basis for the involvement in WHO’s activities.”

Beijing’s Communist leadership has increasingly shut Taiwan out of gatherings such as the World Health Assembly as part of a diplomatic and military drive to force Taiwan’s independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen to recognize the self-governing island democracy as a part of China.

Beijing has threatened military force to bring Taiwan under its control and has been courting its handful of remaining diplomatic allies to isolate it internationally. That has drawn a strong response from Washington, with whom Taiwan has strong but unofficial ties and which is its main guarantor of security.

At the same time, Taiwan has been praised over its handling of the pandemic, despite being just a short flight from China where the virus was first detected late last year.

As of Wednesday, the island of more than 23 million people had recorded just 438 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that Taiwan should be allowed to take part in the World Health Assembly.

“I want to call upon all nations, including those in Europe, to support Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly and in other relevant United Nations venues. I also call upon WHO Director General Dr. Tedros to invite Taiwan to observe this month’s WHA as he has the power to do and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions,” he said.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused Tsai’s government of seeking to use the pandemic for political gain.

“We are firmly opposed to this plot of the Taiwan authorities, and we also believe that such attempts will never succeed,” Hua said at a daily news conference.

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Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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