Taiwan accused the World Health Organization of succumbing to political pressure from Beijing Tuesday after the island failed to receive an invitation to a major international meeting.
China sees self-governing democratic Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification and has used its clout to diminish the island’s presence on the world stage since Beijing-sceptic President Tsai Ing-wen took power in May 2016.
Last year was the first time in eight years that Taiwan was not granted access to the World Health Assembly (WHA) — the WHO’s main meeting.
This year’s WHA is to be held in Geneva from May 21-26 and the online registration deadline lapsed on Monday without Taipei receiving an invite.
The WHO confirmed on Tuesday it did not invite Taiwan this year, saying previous invitations were a special arrangement based on a “cross-strait understanding”.
It would facilitate Taiwan’s inclusion “if and when cross-strait understanding on WHA participation is restored,” it told AFP in a statement.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles official dealings with China, said as a non-political organisation “pursuing the highest health standards for humanity”, the WHO “should not solely serve Beijing’s political will”.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it “regretted” that it had not been invited to the WHA.
“Health is a basic human right, as well as a universal value regardless of differences in race, religion, political beliefs, economic or social situations,” it said in a statement.
It added that under the WHO charter, Taiwan should be allowed equal participation in all WHO events.
While the WHO said Taiwanese experts “regularly participate in relevant WHO technical meetings”, Taiwan said they were able to attend less than 30 percent.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday that the island was only able to attend the WHA from 2009-2016 because the previous Taiwan government had a consensus with Beijing that there is only “one China”.
While the island’s former administration touted the agreement as enabling cross-strait relations to flourish without compromising Taiwan’s sovereignty, Beijing saw it as meaning Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single China.
President Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party have refused to acknowledge the principle, which Beijing sees as the bedrock for relations.
“Because the DPP refuses to recognise the … one China principle, thus undermining the political basis of Taiwan’s participation in the WHO, Taiwan cannot receive an invitation this year,” Geng told reporters.
When asked whether Beijing requested the WHO to exclude Taiwan, Geng did not confirm or deny but said it is “normal” for China to have regular communication with the WHO.
Meanwhile, Beijing has also been attempting to exert pressure on international companies to list Taiwan as a Chinese province on their websites, rather than as a separate entity.
The White House said on Saturday that China’s aviation authorities had sent letters to 36 foreign airlines including US firms demanding they refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as Chinese territories.
“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” it said.