Taiwan Declines China's Condition to Take Part in World Health Organization Again

Taiwan has rejected a Chinese condition that would permit it to participate in the World Health Organization if it accepts that it is part of China under its "One China" policy.

Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung declined the offer during a news conference Friday. He reiterated Taipei's message that the island should be permitted to attend next week's World Health Assembly, the WHO's decision-making body, as an observer state during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, had argued that "the political foundation for the Taiwan region to participate in WHO has ceased to exist" and told reporters that he had "no way to accept something that does not exist."

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Then-Taiwanese Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (C) arrives for the opening of the annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 18, 2009, at the United Nations offices, Geneva in Taipei's first participation as an observer state. China once again excluded its rival after the election of the Democratic Progressive Party's Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

The People's Republic of China considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces and has refused relations with any country that established separate ties with Taipei.

Last week, Belize sent the WHO a formal proposal to include Taiwan at the World Health Assembly in a step that has since been backed by at least a dozen more of Taiwan's 14 remaining diplomatic partners around the world. The move came around the same time that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a call for countries to support Taiwan's participation in the WHO, an appeal backed by others such as Australia, Canada and Japan.

Chen said Friday he had not yet received an invitation from to the 73rd World Health Assembly, due to be held Monday and Tuesday in Geneva. He said he would continue to push for participation.

However, on Friday, Zhao said that Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party was manipulating the pandemic to attend the assembly so it could press its case for independence.

"Their true intention is to seek independence under the pretext of the pandemic with the help of some Western countries. We firmly oppose their futile attempts," Zhao said.

Taiwan has joined the World Health Assembly as an observer in the past, including in 2009 after Beijing and Taipei resumed high-level talks and under the condition it acknowledged it was part of China.

This arrangement was revoked upon Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's 2016 election, which Beijing warns has fueled plans for separatism.

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened to destabilize already rocky relations between the U.S. and China. The Trump administration struck a phase-one agreement to end a trade war with Beijing in January, but adopted a harder line after accusing the country of mishandling the coronavirus outbreak first observed in Wuhan.

Taiwan has fared well in terms of reported COVID-19 cases, with only 440 confirmed cases among its population of 23 million. China, the world's most populous country with 1.4 billion people, has reported around 84,000 cases and the United States, a nation of around 330 million, has registered some 1.4 million instances of the disease, by far the most of any country in the world.

The Trump administration has backed Taiwan's argument that it tried to warn the WHO early on of human-to-human transmission of the virus in a December 31 message, although the WHO has refuted this narrative saying the message simply asked for further information and contained no references to such transmission.