Translated and compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

On May 8, Taiwan announced that it would participate in this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer, despite a controversially phrased invitation that mentioned the One-China principle.

This is the eighth consecutive year for Taiwan to attend the annual event as an observer. The Assembly will open on May 23 in Geneva, Switzerland and close on May 28.

Tung Chen-yuan, spokesman for the incoming government, said on May 8 that Lin Tzou-yien, minister-designate for Health and Welfare, would lead a delegation to the assembly.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed the invitation from Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the letter, Chan states that Taiwan’s invitation to the assembly is based on the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 and WHA Resolution 25.1, which reflect the One-China principle. This is the first time these resolutions, which date back to the 1970s when Taiwan lost its UN membership, have been mentioned in the WHO invitation since Taiwan started attending the assembly in 2009.

Regarding the controversially phrased invitation, Tung says that Taiwan’s participation in the assembly doesn’t relate to the issue of the One-China principle, so it was unnecessary for WHO to mention the principle in the letter.

“We believe this is political interference in our participation in the WHO. We cannot accept this and express our solemn protest,” says Tung.

Tung also says that Taiwan’s attendance at the WHO event is not just about the health of Taiwan’s citizens, but also about Taiwan’s contributions to the global medical and health industry.

According to the Charter of the World Health Organization, health is a basic human right and universal value. As a result, Taiwanese people’s health, and the right to contribute to world health should not be constrained by any political framework, says Tung.

Tung mentions that the incoming cabinet has already provided the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) with a recommended response expressing Taiwan’s stance and protest against the mention of the One-China principle.

Highlighting the growing cross-strait tension

China has impeded Taiwan’s participation in international organizations over the years. Yet, in 2009, a year after president Ma Ying-jeou took office, China ended its objection to Taiwan’s efforts to become a WHO observer. Taiwan has since attended the assembly annually, with an invitation always arriving by early April. However, this year’s invitation was delayed until early May.

The wording of the long-awaited letter immediately raised controversy in Taiwan after its disclosure.

According to the Straits Times, some Taiwanese media outlets and experts have taken the wording as another attempt by China to put pressure on president-elect Tsai Ing-wen before her inauguration on May 20.

On May 6, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of China, said that the One-China principle and the 1992 consensus are the basis for Taiwan’s participation in the WHA. If the political foundation of cross-strait relations is destabilized in the future, the arrangement for Taiwan to join in the assembly could cease.

Reuters reports that ties between China and Taiwan have begun to strain since Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party, who are seen as pro-independence, won Taiwan’s presidential election earlier this year.

In an interview with the Straits Times, Professor Liu Guoshen, head of Xiamen University’s Taiwan Research Institute, says the invitation is an act of both restraint and friendliness from China.

China News Service reports that some Chinese experts on Taiwan say that the invitation is a gesture of goodwill and sincerity from Beijing.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“Taiwan says it will attend WHO assembly” (The Straits Times)
“Taiwan’s new government accuses China of interference in its WHO status” (Reuters)