Taiwan's Health Minister departs for WHA in Geneva despite Beijing's obstruction

Taiwan has unprecedented support from international partners to take part in this year's WHA, says Foreign Minister Joseph Wu

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Health Minister Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at a joint press conference on May 17 (Source: MOFA)

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at a joint press conference on May 17 (Source: MOFA)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Speaking on Friday (May 17) morning ahead of his departure for Geneva, Switzerland without an official invitation to the World Health Assembly (WHA) which will open next week, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) anticipated a long trip he has made for the past two years, and one that will meet with frustration and encouragement.

“Taiwan is neighboring a country that is best at disguising and concealing an epidemic,” it is therefore important for the country to be a part of the WHO system and share its platform in order to keep up with the world in disease prevention," Chen said at a joint press conference held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Friday.

“Sometimes diseases come too quickly, [we] still need an effective and instant platform,” said Chen. It is not just to protect the people in Taiwan, but also to protect the people of the entire world, he added.

Even though Taiwan has been excluded from taking part in the annual health assembly for the third year, the health minister will still lead a delegation comprising government officials and civil groups to Geneva. “The best way is to go to the frontline” to ask for the rights of Taiwanese people, said Chen. “We need the WHA, but the WHA also needs us.”

The delegation is expected to organize dozens of bilateral meetings and medical conferences joined by experts and officials from like-minded countries and diplomatic allies. Promotional events showcasing the experiences of Taiwan in areas of national health insurance, disease prevention, and medical advancement, among several other issues, will also be organized during the WHA week from May 20 - 28.

The delegation will also lodge a protest against the WHO for having blocked Taiwan’s participation in the WHA as an observer for three consecutive years, a decision made under pressure from Beijing, said Chen. However, he declined to specify in what form and what scale the protest would be.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said the ministry is working with like-minded countries and allies in order to put pressure on the WHO. He did not rule out the possibility of having allies make proposals or call for debates in the assembly.

Taking a hard line against Beijing during the press conference, Wu said the Chinese government’s relentless effort to exclude Taiwan from taking part in the WHA has garnered unprecedented support for the island country from the international community over the past year.

Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took office in 2016, China has continued to ramp up pressure on international organizations to block Taiwan’s participation, as part of Beijing's campaign to isolate the island country and restrict its international space.

The spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, said on May 6 that on the basis of its “one-China” principle, Beijing has determined not to allow Taiwan to take part in the WHA this year.

The Chinese spokesperson blamed the DPP government for “obstinately insisting upon Taiwanese independence” and had hence lost “political grounds” to take part in the WHA.

The Taiwan government expresses deep regret and strong discontent towards the WHO for dismissing the health of 23 million Taiwanese people, said Wu. He also criticized the WHO for refusing to issue press passes for Taiwanese media, saying it is an act which violates freedom of the press.