WHO says it cannot invite Taiwan to upcoming global health meeting

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general does not have the power to invite Taiwan to observe an upcoming global health meeting, the organization’s legal representative said Monday, amid protests from China. 

WHO principal legal officer Steven Solomon said Monday that “divergent views” among member states of the United Nations prevents Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from extending an invitation to an outside country to participate in meetings of the international body.

“To put it crisply, director-generals only extend invitations when it’s clear that member states support doing so, that director-generals have a mandate, a basis to do so,” Solomon said in a briefing with reporters.

“Today however, the situation is not the same. Instead of clear support there are divergent views among member states and no basis there for — no mandate for the DG to extend an invitation.” 

China has objected to Taiwan’s inclusion as an observer state at the upcoming annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decisionmaking body that oversees the WHO. The WHA is expected to hold a virtual meeting on May 18.

Beijing has pushed back on increasing calls by global leaders for Taiwan’s inclusion, with a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson on Monday slamming New Zealand’s government for echoing such calls.

The push for Taiwan’s inclusion, being led by the U.S., is part of efforts to push back on China’s influence at the WHO, which President Trump has called “China-centric,” and highlight criticism over Beijing’s handling of the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week called for Taiwan’s participation at the WHA and said the WHO director-general has the power to invite the island nation.

“I also call upon WHO Director-General Tedros to invite Taiwan to observe this month’s WHA, as he has the power to do, and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions,” Pompeo said.

Taiwan has earlier participated in WHA meetings as an observer state under the name “Chinese Taipei” between 2009 and 2016, and that came about with increased relations between Beijing and Taipei. Yet Taiwan was refused an invitation in 2017 and has since not participated in the annual meeting.

Tags Donald Trump Mike Pompeo

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