Washington and Taipei (CNA) — The U.S. Department of State on May 7 reiterated its support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the international community after China again blocked an invitation to Taiwan to attend the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.
“We support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations that do not require statehood,” a State Department spokesperson said in an e-mail reply to a CNA inquiry.
“In organizations that require statehood for membership, the United States supports Taiwan’s meaningful participation. This includes ICAO, INTERPOL, WHO, and the more than 60 international organizations in which Taiwan participates,” the spokesperson said.
The 72nd WHA, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), will be held in Geneva from May 20 to 28. Taiwan had hoped to attend as an observer, as it did from 2009 to 2016, but it did not receive an invitation from the WHO needed to register by Monday’s deadline.
Geng Shuang (耿爽), a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said Monday that China decided not to agree to Taiwan’s participation in this year’s WHA, as has been the case every year since 2017, because of its so-called “one-China principle.”
The State Department spokesperson believed that was a mistake, saying Taiwan has made important contributions to the fight against ISIS, humanitarian relief in Venezuela, combating the spread of Ebola, and other critical, global efforts.
“Excluding Taiwan from global health, safety, and law enforcement networks creates dangerous loopholes that can be exploited by malicious international and transnational actors,” according to the e-mail.
Daniel Russel, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said at a forum in Washington on Monday that Taiwan should be a part of such gatherings as the WHA.
He said it was not only in the interests of the United States and the people of Taiwan but in the interests of the region and the world for Taiwan to be able to play an appropriate role in contributing to regional and global well-being and argued that Beijing should take a more flexible position on the issue.
Stapleton Roy, WHO was the U.S. ambassador in Beijing from 1991 to 1995, said at the same forum that China’s mishandling of the issue is showing its impatience on the pace of unification.
China has accumulated experience over the last two to three decades on how to try to “alter the attitudes in Taiwan to increase support for unification,” but “they haven’t been able to find a way to do that,” Roy said.
“It’s dangerous for China to show impatience on an issue that requires patience in order to promote a peaceful resolution to merge
in the future,” Roy warned.
“If they can’t find a way to show patience on unification, it is simply asking for a major crisis, which will be as damaging to China as it would be to the United States or to Taiwan itself.”
Taiwan on Monday condemned China for what it described as “barbaric behavior,” while its top health official on Tuesday said leaving Taiwan out was a mistake.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said viruses and bacteria know no border and the exclusion of any regions from the WHA could leave loopholes in global disease prevention and control efforts.
Taiwan can contribute its expertise in disease control to the world, while China has huge problems with its epidemic prevention network, Chen said.
Chen and a Taiwan delegation will set off for Geneva on May 17 to hold talks with friendly countries outside the WHA venue and highlight Taiwan’s exclusion from the conference. They will return home on May 23 or 24.
Meanwhile, legislators across party lines urged the government to continue to seek Taiwan’s participation in this year’s WHA, as unlikely as that would seem.
By Chiang Chin-yeh, Fan Cheng-hsian, Chen Chun-hua, Chen Wei-ting and Evelyn Kao