EU health ministers urged to support Taiwan’s participation in WHA

In the WHA venue in 2019 (CNA file photo)

BRUSSELS/TAIPEI (CNA) — A total of 102 European Parliament (EP) legislators on Wednesday urged European Union (EU) health ministers to help facilitate the participation of Taiwan’s health minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) at the upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer.

The WHA, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), is scheduled to hold its 73rd session May 18-19. With the session just four days away, Taiwan has not received an invitation from the WHO despite growing international support.

In an open letter issued Wednesday, 102 members of the EU Parliament and four legislators from the German Bundestag urged EU health ministers to ask the WHO to invite Taiwan to the WHA under the 2009-2016 format, which they described as a “pragmatic protocol.”

The legislators were referring to the eight-year period in which Taiwan was able to participate in the WHA as an observer under the name Chinese Taipei through an invitation from then WHO director-general amid warmer Taipei-Beijing relations.

However, China has adopted a more hardline approach to cross-strait relations since the election of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) from the independence-leading Democratic Progressive Party as president of Taiwan in 2016.

The letter, a copy of which was provided to the media by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), stressed that the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have also officially expressed support for that format.

It also lauded Taiwan’s successful management of the COVID-19 outbreak in spite of its geographic proximity to China, where the virus originated.

“We therefore request that Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare, Chen Shih-chung, be invited to attend this year’s virtual WHA videoconference, as an observer, to share with us Taiwan’s successful experience in handling the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said.

“Furthermore, we request that the WHO facilitate appropriate and feasible arrangements for Taiwan to participate in all WHO meetings, mechanisms and activities.”

The letter was initiated Tuesday by Urmas Paet, former Estonian foreign minister, and Michael Gahler, chairman of the EP-Taiwan Friendship Group, according to MOFA.

“We hoped the WHO would listen to the public’s voice in Europe instead of subjecting itself to political maneuvers from a certain WHO member,” the ministry said in a statement in response to support from the European legislators.

MOFA has argued that the WHO has two avenues for inviting WHA observers — through a resolution passed by the WHA or an invitation issued by the WHO director-general, as it did from 2009-2016.

However, WHO principal legal officer Steven Solomon responded on Monday that the WHO director-general can only issue an invitation when there is clear support from WHO members, which is not the case this year.

Meanwhile, MOFA said in a separate statement that 71 legislators from 10 countries in Central and South America, all members of the Formosa Club, have written letters individually to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urging him to consider the necessity and urgency of Taiwan’s participation in the global health system.

The Formosa Club is a platform established in December 2019 by Taiwan-friendly legislators in 10 Central and South American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.