Taiwan not invited to WHO assembly, but negotiations go on

The World Health Organization on Friday left open the possibility that Taiwan could still attend its upcoming annual assembly, saying talks are continuing despite China's insistence that a delegation from the island must be excluded for the first time since 2009.

For now, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, who is from Hong Kong, "is not in a position to issue an invitation for Taiwanese observers to attend to the World Health Assembly" that starts May 22, said Dr. Tim Armstrong, who heads the WHO department of governing bodies.

But Armstrong told reporters that "negotiations are still ongoing," adding, "Anything is possible."

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. China insists that the island is part of its territory.

Armstrong said this year, no "cross-strait understanding" exists between Taiwan and China like those that allowed Taiwan to send delegates since 2009, but that he had no details on why that was. Other U.N. member states have been supportive of Taiwan's attendance.

Officials in Beijing have said repeatedly over the last week that no Taiwanese observer delegation will be allowed to attend the WHA this year. They said that's because Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has declined to endorse Beijing's view that Taiwan and China are part of a single Chinese nation.

Taiwan has been pushing for an invitation, and Tsai tweeted Sunday that the self-governing democracy deserves inclusion.

Past contacts between Taiwanese experts and WHO will continue even if Taiwan cannot attend, Armstrong said. He said a January visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the WHO headquarters in Geneva "had nothing to do with" the issue of Taiwan's WHA attendance.

As part of longstanding U.N. policy, journalists who present Taiwanese identity papers in their applications for accreditation for the assembly will be denied access to the event, said U.N. Geneva spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci.