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On Friday, the US reiterated its strong support for Taiwan to take part in the virtual World Health Assembly as an observer. Photo: AP Photo

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
Taiwan has not yet received a long sought-after invitation from the World Health Organization despite a growing international chorus calling for the self-ruled island to attend the World Health Assembly this month.
The island has received worldwide praise for its success in containing Covid-19 over the past year, but as the Monday night registration deadline loomed, there was no news from the WHO Secretariat about an invitation to join the event on May 24-June 1, Taiwanese officials said.

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But that status was revoked in 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen was elected president and refused to accept the one-China principle.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.

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With the deadly Covid-19 pandemic spreading around the world and many countries blaming Beijing, which governs the province where the virus was first reported in late 2019, the WHO has faced mounting pressure over denying the island’s bid and is asked to consider Taiwan’s meaningful participation in WHO activities.

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.

On Friday, the US reiterated its strong support for Taiwan to take part in the virtual event as an observer.

“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.

It also came two days after the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised countries, including the United States, Japan and Britain, pledged similar support in a joint statement for the island’s meaningful participation in WHO activities.

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.

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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”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Taipei holds out hope for invitation to WHO forum