Taiwan Seeks Seat in World Health Assembly

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Taiwan’s exclusion from the upcoming World Health Assembly would harm the global response to the coronavirus pandemic and cannot be excused by mere rules of procedure, the island’s health minister said on Wednesday.

Chen Shih-chung told international media at a news conference that global health officials “have not been honest and failed in their responsibilities,” in an apparent reference to the U.N. World Health Organization that oversees the assembly.

“As I said since the beginning of the epidemic, no one is able to accurately predict how the situation will be,” Chen said. “So the most important thing in the world pandemic is transparency. Each one has to share what they know about it.”

Taiwan is claimed as part of Chinese territory by Beijing, which has excluded it from the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations. China’s growing influence in the U.N. has made officials wary of crossing it, even while the U.S. has withdrawn from or suspended funding for some of its bodies, including WHO, which it accuses of mishandling the outbreak and displaying a pro-China bias.

Chen said he acknowledged that U.N. member states would have to approve Taiwan taking part at the World Health Assembly, to be held in in Geneva beginning on May 17.

However, he said there were questions as to whether the WHO’s “procedural justice was manipulated.”

Beijing’s Communist leadership has increasingly shut Taiwan out of gatherings such as the World Health Assembly as part of a diplomatic and military drive to force Taiwan’s independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen to recognize the self-governing island democracy as a part of China.

Beijing has threatened military force to bring Taiwan under its control and has been courting its handful of remaining diplomatic allies to isolate it internationally. That has drawn a strong response from Washington, with whom Taiwan has strong but unofficial ties and which is its main guarantor of security.

At the same time, Taiwan has been praised over its handling of the pandemic, despite being just a short flight from China where the virus was first detected late last year.

As of Wednesday, the island of more than 23 million people had recorded just 438 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused Tsai's government of seeking to use the pandemic for political gain.

“We are firmly opposed to this plot of the Taiwan authorities, and we also believe that such attempts will never succeed," Hua said at a daily news conference.