Taiwan says presence at world health meet vital ahead of Olympics

20, May. 2019

By Elena Patrizi

GENEVA, Kyodo - Taiwan's health minister called anew Sunday for the island to be allowed back to the annual health summit of the World Health Organization, stressing the importance of having disease prevention measures in place before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

In an interview with Kyodo News in Geneva, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung voiced disappointment at Taiwan being shut out yet again from attending the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the WHO's decision-making body, due to pressure from archrival China.

Chen and his delegation flew to Geneva for a series of meetings with other countries' representatives and organizations on the sidelines of annual global gathering, which opens Monday.

As Taiwan is a transportation hub in East and Southeast Asia, excluding it from the WHO's health and safety system could create a loophole for infectious disease control, he warned.

In particular, he said Taiwan's seat at the table of international health discussions is central also in dealing with the recent measles outbreak that is affecting some Asian countries, citing the island's good vaccine injection rate.

He expressed gratitude to governments including Japan, the United States, and the European Union for their efforts in support of Taiwan's initiative to regain its observer status at the WHO.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono tweeted this month “Japan supports Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly as an observer.”

Kono's message came a day after the U.S. representative office in Taiwan reiterated Washington's backing for Taiwan's membership in international organizations that do not require statehood, such as the WHO.

Chen said that Taiwan hopes that such “like-minded countries” will continue to lend support and apply pressure to allow the island to attend the meeting.

Referring to Beijing's ongoing efforts to isolate the self-governing island on the international stage, he acknowledged that Taiwan still has “some challenges and difficulties to overcome.”

Nevertheless, citing the WHO's commitment to health as a human right, he said it is unjust to exclude Taiwan and vowed to continue fighting for official representation.

On the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Chen said Taiwan is willing to fully cooperate with Japan in building a disease prevention system ahead of the “huge event.”

He also noted that Tokyo needs to be aware of the fact that some countries in Asia have inadequate measures.

In term of Taiwan-Japan relations, besides the WHO platform, Chen said Taipei looks forward to building a bilateral disease prevention mechanism in the future, for exchanges of information.

For the third straight year, Taiwan did not to receive an invitation to attend the WHA due to strained ties with China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting unification, by force if necessary.

Taiwan previously attended WHA meetings as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei” between 2009 and 2016 during the administration of former President Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Nationalist Party (KMT).

Beijing unilaterally suspended official contact between the two sides after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in May 2016. (Kyodo)