Blocked by China, Taiwan Presses to Join U.N. Agency’s Meeting

On Monday, the director of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, said the Tsai government’s refusal to recognize the 1992 Consensus was responsible for the breakdown of communication channels between Beijing and Taipei and for Taiwan’s ineligibility to participate in the World Health Assembly.

“It is clear to everyone on which side the blame lies,” Mr. Zhang told reporters in Jiangsu Province. Ms. Tsai has not shown any inclination to yield to China’s demands.

In recent days, she has campaigned on Twitter, making a case for observer status for Taiwan at this year’s meeting by sharing stories about Taiwanese doctors helping with health programs in countries including Vietnam and Burkina Faso. Taiwan had been a World Health Assembly observer since 2009.


Hsu Min-Huei of Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare speaking in Taipei on Monday.

David Chang/European Pressphoto Agency

“Taiwan should not be excluded from W.H.A. this year for any reason,” she wrote on Twitter on April 29. “Health issues don’t stop at border & Taiwan’s role is impt to global health.”

Taiwan is the size of Kentucky, but its population is larger than Australia’s and it has the world’s 22nd-largest economy. Its extensive transport and trade links to the rest of the world make it particularly relevant in the case of global epidemics.

The SARS epidemic of 2002-3 highlighted the human cost of the political isolation of Taiwan by the World Health Organization. Researchers in Taiwan said they were hampered in their efforts to obtain valuable data on the virus from the W.H.O., while patients in Taiwan died and the virus continued to spread in Taiwan and China.

“The issue of whether Taiwan can attend this year’s W.H.A. is a very important indicator of cross-strait relations,” Ms. Tsai said in an interview with Reuters last month.

China has worked persistently to block opportunities for Taiwan to participate in any events that could offer it international visibility or influence. Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, lost its membership in the United Nations in 1971, when the mainland People’s Republic of China took over the seat.

Last week in Perth, Australia, the Chinese delegation to a Kimberley Process conference on controlling conflict diamonds blocked Taiwan’s participation as an observer, even though Taiwan had received a formal invitation. Chinese delegates reportedly hijacked the microphone, speaking over the proceedings until the Taiwan delegates were asked to leave.

In September, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, declined to issue Taiwan an invitation to participate as an observer in its assembly in Montreal. The organization had invited Taiwan to participate as “Chinese Taipei” the previous year at Beijing’s request, when Ms. Tsai’s predecessor, the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou, was president.

In November, the global police organization Interpol rejected Taiwanese participation in its general assembly. In December, the tiny nation of São Tomé and Príncipe announced that it would cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize China, leaving Taipei with only 21 diplomatic allies.

Last week, Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare, Chen Shih-chung, told reporters that Taiwan would send a delegation to the W.H.A. in Geneva this month even without an invitation and that the country had not ruled out holding a news conference in the Swiss city to protest its exclusion.

Correction: May 10, 2017

An article on Tuesday about Taiwan’s efforts to gain inclusion in the World Health Assembly’s annual meeting misstated the year the United Nations ejected Taiwan, known formally as the Republic of China, and turned its former seat over to the People’s Republic of China instead. It happened in 1971, not 1979.

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