BEIJING (Reuters) - Taiwan will fail in its bid to take part in a key meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) amid efforts to rein in the coronavirus as its efforts are not based on health concerns but politics, China said on Friday.
Self-ruled Taiwan has been lobbying to attend, as an observer, the May 18-19 gathering of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), and has won high-level support from the United States and several of its allies, including Japan.
China, under its “one China” policy, considers Taiwan a breakaway province ineligible for state-to-state relations or membership of bodies such as the WHO. All but a handful of countries in the world have diplomatic relations with China and not Taiwan.
Six of WHO’s 194 member states had proposed inviting Taiwan as an observer to the WHA ministerial-level meeting, WHO’s principal legal officer, Steven Solomon, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva on Friday.
He named Eswatini (Swaziland), Marshall Islands, Nicaragua, Palau, St. Lucia and Paraguay, all of which recognise Taiwan over China.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus has “conditional discretion” to issue invitations, provided that they are consistent with rules set out in WHO’s constitution and the policies decided by the World Health Assembly, Solomon said.
“The only body with authority, control and power is the Assembly itself. It’s not the director-general, it’s not the secretariat of WHO,” he added.
Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO, due to the objections of China, angered Taipei, which says this has created a dangerous gap in the global fight against the coronavirus.
Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party was trying to use the pandemic for its own political purposes.
“Its so-called attempts to get into the WHO and participate in the WHA are absolutely not for the health and well-being of Taiwan’s people but are through-and-through political manipulation, and will not succeed,” she said.
Both Taiwan and the United States say that Tedros has the power, should he so wish, to invite Taiwan to the WHA.
But diplomatic sources in Taiwan say that in practice he is unlikely to do so if China does not approve.
Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council said late on Thursday that health was a basic human right and China was “using politics to infringe upon health and human rights”.
The WHO should “not be manipulated by a single country’s political position” and at this time of pandemic should protect the health and safety of people around the world, it said.
Both the WHO and China say Taiwan has been provided with the help and information it needs during the pandemic, something Taiwan strongly disputes. Taiwan says it wants full and proper access to the WHO.
China says it has the right to represent Taiwan on the international stage. Taiwan says that only its democratically elected government can speak for the island’s 23 million people.
Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly as an observer from 2009-2016 when Taipei-Beijing relations were warmer.
China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who China views as a separatist, an accusation she rejects.
WHO’s Solomon said that the 2009-2016 invitations had resulted from a “cross-Straits understanding”, referring to the stretch of water between China and Taiwan.
Since 1972, the Assembly recognised the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China” to its meetings, he said, adding: “That decision still stands.”
Taiwan has diplomatic relations with only 15 countries, almost all small and developing.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie