The annual World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva is poised to keep Taiwan on the sidelines for a second year in a row, but a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came together today to send an email in protest of the country's exclusion.


Morley J Weston

Representatives from several local NGOs hold up signs to protest Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Assembly.

For eight years between 2009 and 2016, roughly corresponding to the period that former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was in power, “Chinese Taipei” sent a delegation to the WHA in Geneva, a massive international public health forum held by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In 2017, Taiwan’s luck ran out when Chinese pressure led to Taiwan's banishment, and the country is expected to have no seat at the table for the second consecutive year. The 2018 assembly will begin on Monday, May 21, and the deadline for online applications closed earlier this week with Taipei uninvited.

Chinese representatives have said that Taiwan was only allowed to attend under the Ma administration because of consensus with Beijing that there was only "one China", a reference to the controversial "1992 Consensus" that Taiwan's current President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has so far declined to ratify, and under which both Taiwan and China agree that Taiwan and China belong to "one China" while disagreeing over what exactly the term means.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG

Protesters take part in a rally in Taipei against Taiwan being excluded from the UN.'s annual World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Taiwan May 21, 2017.

In a press conference attended by representatives from several of the 22 local NGOs protesting the United Nations (UN) agency's actions, they stressed that if the WHO were to uphold its commitment to the world, Taiwan's citizens would have to be included, saying in a statement: "Just as people with rare diseases cannot be left behind in global heath coverage, the health issues of Taiwan's 23 million people should not fall 'outside of universal health coverage.'"

Taiwan's international isolation affects the country in a number of ways – inclusion in the WHA, even as an observer, means greater access to international discussions related to public health, as well as data-sharing schemes, cooperation frameworks and intervention programs organized by the WHO.

Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容), CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation (勵馨社會福利事業基金會), an NGO that assists disadvantaged girls and young women, told reporters: "Of course there are policy reasons [for Taiwan's exclusion], but we 20-odd representatives still want to say that this is unjust – there are disabled people, old people, and all sorts of others that we help represent here."

She added that the WHA discussions are very wide-ranging and important, saying that Taiwan has a lot to contribute to the global discussion on medical care: "We know the reason why [Taiwan] hasn't received an invitation – it is due to Chinese pressure – but we still want to say that the WHO has a responsibility here – health is a basic human right," adding that Taiwan has a right to be heard on the global stage.

We know the reason why [Taiwan] hasn't received an invitation – it is due to Chinese pressure – but we still want to say that the WHO has a responsibility here.

Firing up a laptop, the co-signatories hit the send button on the email to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the plea for inclusion disappeared into the outbox amid a smattering of applause.


Morley J Weston

NGO heads gather to send an email to the head of the WHO.

Tweets and letters

Meanwhile, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has been busy behind the keyboard, sending a series of tweets protesting Taiwan’s situation, including one directly to Tedros, who did not reply.

MOFA also said in a formal statement, "[We] urge WHO to positively recognize the long-term public health and medical partnerships that Taiwan has established with WHO member countries, as well as Taiwan’s contributions to worldwide public health and the human right to health, and its importance as a member of the global disease prevention network."

The foreign ministry had earlier protested that the WHO was in violation of its own charter in failing to invite Taiwan to its assembly.

Sixteen of Taiwan’s remaining 19 diplomatic allies have reportedly sent letters of protest to the WHO. The U.S., France, Japan and Canada have also advocated observer status for Taiwan at the meeting.

Read Next: Does Taiwan’s WHA Exclusion Really Matter? An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Biggest Health Meeting

Editor: David Green