WHO says Taiwan can’t participate in the World Health Assembly

WHO says Taiwan can’t participate in the World Health Assembly

The World Health Organization will not be permitting Taiwan to participate in its upcoming World Health Assembly next week. According to the organization’s leading attorney Steven Solomon, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has “no mandate” to invite Taiwan to partake, as it is up to member states — like China — who have the final call. Their opinions, he says, are “divergent.”

The Hill reported on Monday that Solomon gave his statement to reporters, informing them of the WHO’s decision. “To put it crisply, director-generals only extend invitations when it’s clear that member states support doing so, that director-generals have a mandate, a basis to do so. Today however, the situation is not the same. Instead of clear support there are divergent views among member states and no basis there for — no mandate for the DG to extend an invitation.”

Countries supporting Taiwan's invitation chided by China

A proposal, he says, was made to the assembly to decide on inviting Taiwan. “That is procedurally how it is supposed to work under the Constitution. All 194 Member States can consider the issue collectively, in accordance with the rules of procedure. Success depends on political will and political engagement, which underscores the point that this is a political issue that is properly in the hands of Member States,” he said.

New Zealand was among the member states that proposed Taiwan’s inclusion at the conference – an action that led to chastisement from China, the country of origin for COVID-19. China stated that New Zealand needed to “stop making wrong statements” to avoid damaging its relationship with China. Winston Peters, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, had expressed his “personal” support for Taiwan.

 “In the interests [of] international health, you want every country in an international organization designed to improve the world's health. It's just logic,” he said. “Personally, you've got to have every population in the world in the WHO if it's to have any meaning.”

Taiwan's inclusion supported by Mike Pompeo

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemned his remarks, stating that it violated the nation’s “one China” policy, which he says defines its relationship with New Zealand. The Chinese Embassy followed up with an official rebuke, reiterating: “There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is part of China.”

"We hope New Zealand will continue to abide by this principle, properly handle issues related to Taiwan and uphold the sound development of China-NZ relations with concrete actions," it said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also expressed support for Taiwan’s participation at the summit, stating his understanding that the WHO Director General had the power to invite participants. “I also call upon WHO Director-General Tedros to invite Taiwan to observe this month’s WHA, as he has the power to do, and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions,” he said in a statement.

Previously attended as “Chinese Taipei”

Taiwan was previously allowed to participate at the World Health Assembly between 2009 and 2016 under the name of “Chinese Taipei,” but was refused invitation in 2017 following complaints from China.

In the face of the Chinese-borne novel coronavirus, Taiwan stands as a leader in the fight against the disease that has claimed over 286,000 deaths worldwide and ravaged the global economy. Taiwan has only had 440 confirmed cases and seven deaths.