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International relations

US lawmakers urge support for Taiwan at WHO, sources say

The leaders of foreign affairs committees have written to nearly 60 countries

Taiwan, which is not a member of the United Nations, has been excluded from the WHO, which is a U.N. agency, due to objections from China.    © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The leaders of U.S. congressional foreign affairs committees wrote to nearly 60 countries on Friday asking them to support Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization, citing the need for the broadest effort possible to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan, which is not a member of the United Nations, has been excluded from the WHO, which is a U.N. agency, due to objections from China.

"As the world works to combat the spread of the COVID-19, a novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, it has never been more important to ensure all countries prioritize global health and safety over politics," the lawmakers said in their letter, sent on Friday and first reported by Reuters.

It was signed by Representatives Eliot Engel, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Michael McCaul, the panel's ranking Republican member, as well as Senators Jim Risch, the Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Bob Menendez, the panel's ranking Democratic member.

The letter was sent to "like-minded" countries, large and small, seen as friends and allies of Taiwan, including Canada, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

It was sent as President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have ramped up criticism of China over the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. The Trump administration has accused China of making the pandemic worse by hiding information.

Last month, Trump announced that he was suspending aid to the WHO, accusing it of being "China-centric" and promoting China's "disinformation" about the outbreak, assertions the WHO denies.

Some of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress have echoed the president's criticisms. Democrats have criticized Trump for attacking the WHO during a global health crisis, while saying it needs reforms.

Taiwan has been seeking to join a ministerial meeting this month of the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), with backing from Washington and several U.S. allies.

But China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province under its "one China" policy, said Taiwan's effort to join the meeting will fail, insisting its efforts are based on politics, not health concerns.

Taiwan has argued that its exclusion from the WHO has created a dangerous gap in the global fight against the coronavirus.

In their letter, the U.S. lawmakers said Taiwan's resources and expertise are assets that could benefit the world as it struggles with the pandemic. They noted that Taiwan was invited to participate in WHA meetings from 2009 to 2016.

"Diseases know no borders. We urge your government to join us in addressing the pressing issue of Taiwan's inclusion in global health and safety organizations. Given what the world has endured as a result of COVID-19, UN Member States joining together to insist Taiwan be invited to the upcoming virtual WHA session in May 2020 is the right place to start," the letter said. 

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