According to a statement by Dr. Tim Armstrong, head of the WHO department of governing bodies, the WHO “is not in a position to issue an invitation for Taiwanese observers to attend to the World Health Assembly.” Armstrong explained that the reason why the WHO cannot invite Taiwan is that China and Taiwan have not reached a “cross-strait understanding”.
Taiwan has attended the WHA as an “observer” since 2009, a year after pro-unification leader Ma Ying-jeou won the presidential elections. Ma had pledged to improve cross-strait relations on the basis of the so-called ‘1992 consensus‘. Beijing, who regarded Ma as an ally, allowed Taiwan more international space in exchange for Taipei’s endorsement of the ‘one China principle.’
In 2016 Ma’s party, the Guomindang, suffered a crushing electoral defeat. The new president of Taiwan, Ts’ai Ying-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has refused to publicly support the ‘1992 consensus’. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has reacted by restricting Taiwan’s already limited role on the international arena, hoping that Ts’ai would eventually back down or suffer an electoral backlash.
Chinese media triumphantly wrote that Taiwan’s “illusions are broken”. They pointed out that Ts’ai Ying-wen and DPP politician Frank Hsieh had lobbied for international support for their case, even putting out tweets in Japanese. In view of Sino-Japanese tensions dating back to World War II, Chinese media are implying that Ts’ai and Hsieh are ‘traitors’ to China.
On May 9 Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a press conference that Taiwan must abide by the ‘one China principle’ if it wants to participate in the WHA. “We have reiterated many times that the issue of the Taiwan area’s participation in international organizations must be solved according to the one China principle. If the precondition of adherence to the one China principle is met, the Chinese central government will make the appropriate arrangements,” Geng said.
Geng further stated that China’s position is consistent with UN resolution 2758 adopted in 1971 which expelled the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) from the UN and admitted the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the sole legitimate representative of China.
As one of the founding members of the UN and the WHO, the ROC attended the WHA until it was displaced by Beijing.
Taipei reacted with dismay to the news that it will not be invited to attend the WHA. The Office of the President expressed the government’s “regret and dissatisfaction” with the WHO decision, stressing that health issues are of concern for the entire world community, including Taiwan. “The Taiwanese people should enjoy the same rights and benefits as all people in the world,” the government said.
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