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, who took office just days before last year’s summit, tweeted Sunday that the self-governing democracy deserves inclusion.
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.
Hsu Ming-hui, director of the Bureau of International Cooperation for Taiwan’s Department of Health, vowed Monday to continue pressing for an invitation until the summit convenes in Geneva on May 22, said the island would send a delegation regardless.
WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said the organization “understands that there is a concern” about Taiwan participating at this year’s assembly, but declined to specify the nature of the concern or who had raised it. An invitation is necessary for observers to attend, she said.
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.
The Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which is responsible for contacts between the sides, issued a statement Monday blaming Taipei for its refusal to accept the “one China” principle.
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.
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.
Associated Press video journalist Wu Taijing in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.
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