Taiwan holds out hope of 11th-hour invitation to World Health Assembly with support of the West
- Despite being widely praised for its handling of coronavirus, Taipei is yet to be invited to forum where pandemic will be the focus
- Support from 50 countries, including the US and other G7 members, has reportedly prompted the WHO to soften its position on the island’s bid
Taiwanese deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang acknowledged on Monday that the island’s government was yet to receive the invitation, but said Taiwan would not give up.
“We will fight to the last minute,” he said. “Since the meeting begins on May 24, with great effort and the support of the world we may still – until the night of May 23 – be able to make it.”
Speaking about Taiwan’s confidence, Tien said: “When [the present situation is] compared with the past, the magnitude [of support] has grown stronger globally and when it accumulates to a certain level, the possibility [of taking part] will increase,” he said.
Taiwanese foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou called on WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus to uphold the principle of professional neutrality and respond to international support by inviting Taiwan to attend the WHA event on May 24.
Taipei was ousted from the WHO, a UN body, in 1972 – a year after it was expelled from the United Nations when Beijing joined. After a long campaign, it rejoined as a WHA observer in 2009, helped by the island’s then president Ma Ying-jeou’s policy of engaging with Beijing.
But that status was revoked in 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen was elected president and refused to accept the one-China principle. Since then, Beijing – which claims sovereignty of Taiwan and is influential in the WHO – has maintained that Taipei can only take part with its consent. And as tensions mount across the Taiwan Strait, that consent is not forthcoming.
Taiwan’s relative success in keeping the pandemic at bay with fewer than 1,200 infections and just 12 deaths so far has won widespread recognition.
“There is no reasonable justification for Taiwan’s continued exclusion from this forum,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, referring to the WHA which is set to discuss the pandemic.
Blinken’s assessment came a day after the French Senate unanimously approved a resolution to support Taiwan joining international organisations, including the WHO and Interpol.
The support from at least 50 countries so far has prompted the WHO to soften its position on the island’s bid to take part, allowing a vote of a simple majority of its 194 members to decide whether to invite Taiwan for the upcoming event, according to local news media.
Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said verbal support was always comforting and appreciated.
“However, effective actions are necessary to realise Taiwan’s invitation and substantial contribution,” he said.
“Most likely, voting can only take place after the WHA is convened, and Taiwan would have already lost the invitation by then,” he noted.
Beijing has strongly opposed other countries supporting Taiwan’s bid, saying they should not “meddle in internal affairs of China”.