Taiwan is making a last-ditch appeal to the World Health Organization (WHO) to participate in its annual global health summit amid a concerted effort by China to block the island from admittance for the second year in a row.
Despite the backing of key allies, including the United States, Taiwanese officials believe the effort is likely to fall short ahead of WHO's May 7 deadline to issue invitations to the World Health Assembly (WHA).
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Taiwan's health minister, Chen Shih-chung, has vowed to send a delegation to the five-day meeting beginning May 21 regardless of whether Taipei is invited or not to contribute to the international fight against diseases and epidemics.
Last year marked the first time in eight years that Taiwan was denied a place as an observer at the annual WHA due to pressure from Beijing as part of a broader effort to isolate the island.
"It is regrettable that political obstruction led to Taiwan being denied an invitation to the 70th WHA as an observer last year," Chen said in an op-ed published Wednesday in the Diplomat. "The WHO not only failed to abide by its constitution, but also ignored widespread calls for Taiwan's inclusion coming from many nations and international medical groups all around the world. Yet despite this, Taiwan remains committed to helping enhance regional and global disease prevention networks, and assisting other countries in overcoming their healthcare challenges."
Chen's comments come as China ramps up pressure on foreign governments to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan over President Tsai Ing-wen's refusal to acknowledge Beijing's stance that the self-governed island is part of a single China ruled by the mainland.
The Dominican Republic on Tuesday became the latest country to dissolve relations with Taiwan in favor of China, leaving only 19 nations that recognize Taipei's sovereignty.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation in April calling on the secretary of state to layout a strategy for Taiwan to regain its observer status in WHO prior to the health summit at the end of the month. Though a similar bill passed through the House at the beginning of the year, the Senate version has yet to move out of committee.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla), co-chair of the U.S. Senate Taiwan Caucus, said in a statement last month it is "clear that China's diplomatic bullying efforts are responsible for blocking Taiwan's invitation."
"Given the need to assure full international coordination and cooperation to effectively combat the threat of deadly pandemics and other health crises around the globe, the politically motivated exclusion of Taiwan from the WHA is both short-sighted and potentially dangerous," Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) said in a related statement. "Health issues don't stop at borders or pay heed to politics."