GENEVA (Reuters) -Taiwan’s bid to attend the World Health Organization’s annual assembly was rejected on Monday, the assembly said, after a campaign of diplomatic pressure from China to isolate the island, which it considers to be one of its own provinces.
World Health Assembly (WHA) President Ahmed Robleh Abdilleh, also Djibouti’s health minister, said in a statement that a proposal sent by 13 WHO members to allow Taiwan to join as an observer would not be included in its official agenda.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry expressed “deep regret and dissatisfaction” at the decision.
“China’s repeated use of politics to override the public interest of global health security and harm the health and human rights of the Taiwanese people is unacceptable to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” it said in a statement.
Taiwan is excluded from most global groups due to Beijing’s objections. China insists that Taiwan should not be treated as an independent country as it considers the island a province.
Taipei argues that its exclusion from the WHO has hampered efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It is allowed to attend some technical WHO meetings.
On Tuesday, Taiwan said it disputed China’s claim that it had made proper arrangements for Taiwanese participation in global health affairs.
Assembly president Abdilleh said the decision to reject Taiwan’s inclusion followed a recommendation from the General Committee which discussed the proposal on Sunday in a closed-door meeting.
“The political and legal foundation for Taiwan’s participation in WHA ceases to exist,” Chen Xu, China ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva told the assembly shortly before the decision. “This political manipulation will only be met with opposition from all parties.”
However, both the United States and Britain showed their support for Taiwan’s inclusion.
Loyce Pace, U.S. envoy to the assembly, said that Taiwan has been a critical partner contributing constructively to global health and that the United States “deeply regrets” its exclusion from attending the assembly as an observer.
“There’s clearly no health crisis to justify not including Taiwan as an observer of the WHO,” British health minister Sajid Javid told the assembly.
This year’s assembly, joined by thousands of delegates including nearly 100 from China, will discuss key reforms such as changes to the WHO’s funding.
China began blocking Taiwan’s WHA participation from 2017, marking the end of a warmer period of relations between Beijing and Taipei.
(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy and Emma Farge, Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Editing by William Maclean, Hugh Lawson, Josephine Mason and Catherine Evans)