GENEVA (AP) — Taiwan's health minister on Monday accused China of playing politics with health after Taiwan was blocked from taking part in the annual meeting of the governing body of the World Health Organization for the first time since 2008.
Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung lashed out at China's actions, which Beijing said was taken because Taiwan's year-old government has reneged on the "One China" principle.
"Are we here to discuss politics, or are we here to discuss health?" Chen told supporters and journalists. "I think that all discussion should be based on the right to health, instead of anything political."
The World Health Assembly accepted the exclusion of Taiwan without a vote at the beginning of its annual session in Geneva Monday. Taiwan isn't a U.N. member state, but had been granted assembly "observer status" every year since 2009 under an arrangement on the "One China" principle.
On Sunday, Chen's Chinese counterpart, Li Bin, blamed the governing party of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen for the exclusion of Taiwan this year, insisting its refusal to accept the principle of a single China has torpedoed its hopes to attend.
Chen struck back at that claim.
"Since President Tsai took office, we have not done anything to proactively change the status quo," he said, expressing "disappointment" about Li's comments. He added he would not rule out a meeting with Li in Geneva, but that nothing was yet planned.
Chen said Taiwan has "many things to share" in the health arena.
"We have a full-coverage national health care insurance policy, high-quality medical care, powerful epidemic control, and many other successful initiatives," Chen said. "It is not only that Taiwan needs the WHO, the WHO also needs Taiwan."
The World Health Assembly, now in its 70th edition, brings together health ministers and other top health officials from its 194 member states. The highlight of this year is expected to be the election Tuesday of a successor for Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, a native of Hong Kong who has led the agency for a decade.
A statement Monday from the office of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he had met with health officials from Taiwan "to discuss mutual efforts in support of global health security" — one of many bilateral meetings he has planned in Geneva.
Before taking office in January, President-elect Donald Trump — now Price's boss — astonished many by talking directly with President Tsai by phone, the highest level U.S.-Taiwan conversation since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. Trump further stirred the pot by questioning the need to uphold the longtime U.S. "One China" policy.
Trump has since moved to reassure Beijing that he will adhere to that policy.
China has used its clout as one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council to exclude Taiwan from the United Nations and other world bodies that require sovereign status for membership.