Taiwan is excluded from WHO general assembly meeting

Taiwan has been campaigning to be able to attend the annual WHO assembly as an observer for several years.

Taiwan is excluded from WHO general assembly meeting
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at Taoyuan International Airport upon returning from a trip to the U.S. and Central America, in Taoyuan, Taiwan April 7, 2023. Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

The backstory: China views Taiwan as a part of its territory under its “One China” principle, which also means it wants all diplomatic relations on behalf of Taiwan to go through Beijing. The World Health Organization (WHO) hosts a general assembly meeting every year in Geneva, but Taiwan has been barred from participating because most countries adhere to the “One China” stance. It’s said that being excluded made it harder for the region to deal with COVID during the pandemic, even though it has been allowed to attend other technical WHO meetings in the past.

More recently: Taiwan has been campaigning to be able to attend the annual WHO assembly as an observer for several years. Even up to last week, the region was hoping for an invitation and rallying support from others. Taiwan said it now had more foreign support than in the past for its attendance.

The US also backed Taiwan on this, saying it should be represented in the name of “health for all.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored that the country’s support for Taiwan’s invitation as an observer still fell in line with the “One China” policy. Apart from the US, the de facto embassies in Taiwan for Australia, the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, Lithuania and the Czech Republic all supported Taiwan’s invitation to observe the assembly.

The development: The WHO gathering began on Sunday, May 21 and will last through next Tuesday. Taiwan never received an invite. China welcomed the decision not to bring Taiwan in, saying that the island’s request to join had been politically charged and aimed at starting discussions about its independence and separatism. Pakistan also urged the WHO not to extend an invite, and China’s foreign ministry said around 100 countries had expressed their adherence to the “One China” principle regarding the request.

The US mission in Geneva also responded to the decision, saying that it “undermines inclusive global public health cooperation.” And Taiwan’s health minister responded to the exclusion, saying that it jeopardizes the health of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people.

Key comments:

"Inviting Taiwan as an observer would exemplify the WHO’s commitment to an inclusive, 'health for all' approach to international health cooperation," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“Politics should not be allowed to take precedence over professionalism,” Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs said. “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.”

“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’,” said China’s ministry of foreign affairs about the decision to exclude Taiwan.