(CNSNews.com) – A day before President Biden began his first trip as president to Asia, the administration threw its support Wednesday behind calls for Taiwan to be invited to the World Health Organization’s annual World Health Assembly (WHA), in Geneva next week.
“There is no reasonable justification to exclude its participation, which will benefit the world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, calling for Taiwan to be allowed to take part as an observer.
“As we continue to fight COVID-19 and other emerging health threats, Taiwan’s isolation from the preeminent global health forum is unwarranted and undermines inclusive global public health cooperation.”
Similar interventions in past years have gone unheeded, as a result of China’s strong opposition to any step seen to enhance Taiwan’s position in the international community or bolster its claim to sovereignty.
Beijing’s foreign ministry accused the U.S. of playing the “Taiwan card” in an attempt to “contain” China, and expressed confidence that the bid would fail again.
Blinken’s statement came less than a week after Biden signed into law a bill that directs “the secretary of state to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization.”
The bipartisan legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate last summer and by the House in April.
If Taiwan is not invited to the week-long WHA, it will be the sixth year in a row that its 23.5 million people are not represented at WHO’s primary decision-making body.
Prior to that, China between 2009 and 2016 allowed Taiwan to attend the WHA as an observer – under the name “Chinese Taipei” – but withdrew its consent after the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party returned to power in Taipei. (Previously, China had also blocked Taiwan from participating between 1997 – the first time it sought observer status – and 2008.)
In recent years, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has sidestepped calls to invite Taiwan to the WHA, saying the decision was up to the 194 member-states.
In May last year, despite appeals from the U.S., Taiwan’s handful of diplomatic allies, and – for the first time – the G7 leading industrialized democracies, Tedros punted the issue to the members.
The 2021 “WHA General Committee” then recommended that a proposal for Taiwan to be allowed to participate as an observer should not be included on the agenda.
(Only seven of the 25 members of the committee that made the decision were democracies. Among the rest were China and likeminded nations including Russia, Cuba, Algeria, Burundi, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Qatar, and Zimbabwe.)
The WHO in 1972 passed a resolution recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the “only legitimate representative of China to the WHO.” Months earlier the U.N. General Assembly had passed a resolution handing Beijing the “China” seat in New York, and ejecting Taiwan.
Beijing says that it ensures that the health needs of Taiwan’s people are met, a claim repeated on Wednesday by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
“The Chinese central government attaches great importance to the health and well-being of our compatriots in the Taiwan region, and has made proper arrangement for Taiwan’s participation in global health affairs on the precondition of following the one-China principle,” he told a briefing, adding that Beijing over the past year had given “the Taiwan region” 386 updates on the COVID-19 situation.
“We advise the U.S. to stop exploiting the WHA to play up Taiwan-related issues,” Wang said. “Any attempt to play the ‘Taiwan card’ to contain China will be firmly rejected by the overwhelming majority of members of the international community and is doomed to fail.”
Blinken’s appeal on Wednesday came days after he joined G7 counterparts in voicing support for “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the World Health Assembly and WHO technical meetings.”
“The international community should be able to benefit from the experience of all partners,” said the G7 foreign ministers. It was the only the second time the group has taken that position publicly.
As was the case last year, a proposal by Taiwan’s allies for it to be allowed to participate as an observer will be discussed by the “WHA General Committee,” once the committee is appointed on Sunday, the opening day of the assembly.
While Taiwan has been blocked from observing at the WHA for years, the green light has been given regularly to the “State of Palestine,” which is neither a sovereign entity nor a U.N. member state.
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