Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday called for the World Health Assembly (WHA) to allow Taiwan to participate as an observer in its annual meeting later this month, a position likely to rankle China, which views the island as under the authority of Beijing.

“There is no reasonable justification for Taiwan’s continued exclusion from this forum,” Blinken said in a statement calling on World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite the tiny island country to participate despite protests from China.

“Global health and global health security challenges do not respect borders nor recognize political disputes,” Blinken continued.

“Taiwan offers valuable contributions and lessons learned from its approach to these issues, and WHO leadership and all responsible nations should recognize that excluding the interests of 24 million people at the WHA serves only to imperil, not advance, our shared global health objectives.”

The secretary’s statement builds on international calls and consensus from lawmakers in both the House and Senate to support Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the WHA, the decisionmaking body of the WHO that establishes its annual global health agenda during the meeting.

Beijing opposes Taiwan participating in the WHO or WHA as an observer because it considers the island to be its sovereign territory, a stance Taipei rejects.

“The participation of China’s Taiwan region in activities of international organizations, including the WHO, which consists of sovereign nations, must be handled in accordance with the one-China principle,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin told reporters on Thursday, following a communique by foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) that included support for Taiwan’s participation at the WHA.

The communique was released on Wednesday following the G-7 meeting in London and included participation by the U.S.

It stated, “We support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in World Health Organisation forums and the World Health Assembly. The international community should be able to benefit from the experience of all partners, including Taiwan’s successful contribution to the tackling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Taiwan is considered one of the first countries to meaningfully raise the alarm about the COVID-19 pandemic, writing to the WHO on Dec. 31, 2019, of “at least seven cases of atypical pneumonia in Wuhan,” the Chinese city where the outbreak was first reported.

The alert from Taiwan in an email is viewed by critics of China’s early response to the coronavirus as the first global alert of a highly infectious disease, putting pressure on Beijing to confirm the virus threat.

The delay by Chinese authorities is viewed, at best, as failing to meet international reporting requirements of disease threats or, at worst, an effort to cover up the initial threat of the virus. 

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