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Coronavirus

With nod from China, Taiwan gets seat at WHO coronavirus forum

Beijing insists 'One China' principle applies to self-ruled island despite concession

The World Health Organization held a two-day forum on the coronavirus in Geneva this week.   © Reuters

TAIPEI/GENEVA -- Taiwanese experts participated in a World Health Organization meeting this week on the coronavirus outbreak, as mainland China made an exception to its usual policy of blocking what it considers a breakaway province from international forums.

The meeting in Geneva, which the Taiwanese participants and others joined via teleconference, covered such topics as treatment methods for the disease that the WHO has officially named COVID-19. The two-day forum wrapped up on Wednesday.

A representative of Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the move a "meaningful development" in a news conference Tuesday.

The experts joined in their personal capacity, not as representatives of Taiwan, and did not give their nationality, a ministry spokesperson said Wednesday.

This suggests that China decided it was necessary under the circumstances to let Taiwan participate in sharing information on the virus but did not budge on letting it join in separately from the mainland. Taiwan has reported 18 cases of COVID-19.

Beijing has ramped up diplomatic pressure on the island since China-skeptic Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party administration took office in 2016. It has blocked the island from participating in events such as the WHO's annual assembly even as an observer.

Tsai has refused to accept the "One China" principle, Beijing's view that Taiwan and the mainland are parts of an indivisible whole.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang referred to this principle Tuesday in asserting that Taiwanese experts' inclusion in the coronavirus forum came only with Beijing's blessing. The Taiwanese side has disputed this characterization, saying that its participation was arranged directly between Taipei and the WHO.

"The Taiwan region's participation in WHO technical activities must be arranged after being agreed by the Chinese side through consultations under the 'One China' principle," Geng said. "According to the arrangement reached by China and the WHO, China has replied to the WHO that we agree to the participation of the Taiwan region's medical experts in this forum."

"It is despicable for the Democratic Progressive Party authority to hype up this issue and conduct political manipulation over it," he said.

Lobbying by countries including the U.S. is believed to have factored into the WHO's decision. Washington argued at last week's WHO executive board meeting that the organization must engage directly with Taiwanese health authorities.

Japan stressed that the body should not leave a "geographical gap" by refusing to let in "certain regions" even as observers. The U.K. and other countries supported Taiwan's participation as well.

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