WHO rejects bid for Taiwan to attend its annual assembly amid pressure from China

The World Health Organisation on Monday rejected Taiwan’s bid to attend its annual assembly amid increasing pressure from China.

The move was opposed by China as it regards Taiwan as a part of its own territory, and tries to prevent other nations and organisations from treating it as a separate country.

The WHO had earlier said that “inviting Taiwan to attend the WHA [world health assembly] as an observer would exemplify the WHO’s commitment to an inclusive approach to international health cooperation and ‘health for all.’”

However, the WHA’s president Ahmed Robleh Abdilleh said on Monday that a proposal to give the island observer status would not be included on the official agenda.

Taiwan has argued that its exclusion from the WHO has hampered efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, though the self-governed island has been allowed to attend some WHO technical meetings.

There have been growing calls to allow Taiwan in as an observer, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. US secretary of state Anthony Blinkin said last week that “as we continue to fight Covid-19 and other emerging health threats, Taiwan’s isolation from the pre-eminent health forum is unwarranted and undermines inclusive global public health cooperation.”

In April this year, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation calling on the State Department to submit a plan to help Taiwan regain its observer status at the WHO.

Mr Abdilleh said in a statement that the decision to reject Taiwan’s bid to attend the annual assembly was taken following a recommendation from the General Committee which discussed the proposal on Sunday in a closed-door meeting.

“The political and legal foundation for Taiwan’s participation in WHA ceases to exist,” Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva told the assembly shortly before the decision was taken. “This political manipulation will only be met with opposition from all parties.”

The UK government had also issued a statement in which it said that “Taiwan remains largely excluded from the world’s international health system. Taiwan’s experts are now working diligently to counter growing community Covid-19 transmission.” It said that “excluding Taiwan from the work of the World Health Assembly hampers these efforts and compromises global health and safety”.

Meanwhile, on his first trip to Asia during his presidency, US president Joe Biden said the burden to safeguard the self-ruled island had become “even stronger” following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. “That’s the commitment we made,” Mr Biden said in a press conference, adding that any effort by China to use force against Taiwan would “just not be appropriate”.

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