The Australian government is backing the right of Taiwan to attend a global health summit in Geneva next week, after China blocked Taiwan’s invitation.
Taiwan’s annual participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) has been its most important symbol of international participation for the past nine years.
But a worsening diplomatic spat with China has resulted in the World Health Organisation stating that its director-general, Margaret Chan, is unable to issue an invitation to Taiwan for the first time in almost a decade.
Fairfax Media has learnt that Australia is among a group of countries who have made representations to the WHO in recent days in support of Taiwan attending the Geneva meeting on May 22.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry requested that its diplomatic allies write letters to Dr Chan.
“Its citizens have the right to participate in discussions on global health and disease prevention issues, a fact that is reflected in the worldwide support Taiwan has received,” said a spokesman for the Taiwan foreign ministry.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “The Australian government has consistently supported Taiwan’s involvement in the practical work of the World Health Organisation as important for regional and global health outcomes.”
Earlier this month a Chinese delegation loudly disrupted an international conflict diamond meeting in Perth, forcing out Taiwanese observers who had been invited by Australia to attend.
The incident, which occurred in the presence of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, made international headlines.
But the Chinese government reacted to criticism of the Chinese delegation’s behaviour by stating Taiwan no longer had China’s support to attend international events.
New Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has angered Beijing by refusing to accept a 1992 agreement on the ‘One China’ policy.
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, and is unhappy at the election of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.
The letters to the WHO propose that an invitation for Taiwan to participate in the meeting as an observer be included in the assembly’s agenda.
But lobbying from China has also stepped up.
Dr Chan, who is from Hong Kong, attended China’s Belt and Road summit in Beijing on Sunday. She met with China’s vice-premier Liu Yandong and said the WHO was willing to deepen its cooperation with China, according to Chinese state media reports.
The Associated Press reported last week that the WHO had stated it was unable to invite Taiwan to the health assembly because no “cross-strait understanding” existed between Taiwan and China, in contrast to previous years.
“Taiwan urges the WHO and its members to recognise its importance as an indispensable part of the global disease prevention system, to respect the right to health of its 23 million people, and to support its participation in the WHA as an observer,” said Taiwan’s foreign ministry.
Ms Tsai’s government had earlier threatened to “gatecrash” the May 22 meeting in Geneva if an invitation failed to arrive.
Ms Tsai irritated Beijing by telephoning Donald Trump before his inauguration as US president, breaking decades of US protocol.
By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald