Taiwan pushes for inclusion in global health summit


BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan is pushing for a last-minute invitation to an annual World Health Organization summit amid rising pressure from Beijing to isolate the island by blocking its participation in international events.

Online registration for the 10-day World Health Assembly closes Monday. Although Taiwan has attended as an observer since 2009, China has been stepping up diplomatic pressure on Taiwan’s government over President Tsai Ing-wen’s refusal to endorse Beijing’s view that Taiwan is Chinese territory.

Tsai tweeted Sunday that the self-governing democracy deserves inclusion at the summit in late May in Geneva. She linked to an article detailing Taiwan’s “medical magic” and cross-border humanitarian efforts.

Foreign Minister David Lee vowed last week to take action if Taiwan can’t attend, although the island appears to have little leverage to counter China’s efforts to sideline it.

WHO representatives in China referred questions to the organization’s Geneva headquarters, which did not immediately respond.

While Taiwan has received some international support, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said most countries back China’s stance.

“Taiwan’s participation in international organizations’ activities must follow the ‘one China’ principle,” Geng said, referring to China’s claim of sovereignty over the island.

“Only a few individual countries have voiced their support for Taiwan’s participation and we are firmly opposed to that,” he told a daily news briefing.

Beijing insists that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are part of a single Chinese nation and has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary. It doesn’t recognize the island’s government and refuses to have diplomatic ties with any of the handful of foreign countries that do so.

China has also used its clout as one of five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council to exclude Taiwan from the U.N. and other world bodies that require sovereign status for membership.

Beijing has increasingly sought to hinder Taiwan’s attendance at even sporting, cultural and trade gatherings, including a meeting on the international trade in “blood diamonds” last week in Australia, where a disruption of the proceedings by the Chinese delegation resulted in Taiwan’s representatives being forced to leave.

Since Tsai’s election last year, China has also discouraged tourism to Taiwan, with Taiwan’s government saying the number of Chinese visitors fell by more than 50 percent in the first four months of the year. Beijing severed limited contacts with Taiwanese officials in June shortly after Tsai’s inauguration.

The animosity dates to a post-World War II civil war between the two sides led by Communist leader Mao Zedong and Nationalist Chiang Kai Shek, who fled to Taiwan with his government after losing the fight over the mainland.

WHO was established in 1948 by members of the United Nations as the global guardian of public health with offices in more than 150 countries. Its assembly is used to appoint a director general and adopt a health agenda for the coming year.

For the past decade, WHO has been led by Margaret Chan, the former director of health for Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China. Her current five-year term expires in June.

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