GENEVA — China's health minister has all but slammed the door on any more participation for Taiwan at the World Health Organization's annual assembly until the island's government accepts the "One China" principle.
Health Minister Li Bin blamed the party of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, saying its refusal to accept the idea of a single China has torpedoed its ambitions to attend — leading to the first lockout of Taiwan as an observer state since 2008.
Li said that in the past, China had "agreed to let the Taiwan region attend" under a "special arrangement" based on acceptance of the principle. Speaking to reporters Sunday on the eve of the assembly's opening, she said the refusal of Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party to accept the principle "has destroyed the goodwill basis for the continuous attendance of the Taiwan region into the assembly."
"In a nutshell, it is the Democratic Progressive Party itself which has set the barrier that has impeded the participation of the Taiwan region into the World Health Assembly," she said. "Only when the political basis that reflects the 'One-China' principle has been confirmed can the regular exchanges across the strait be sustained."
"And only then can the two sides of the Taiwan Strait resume their consultations regarding the possibility of Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly," Li added. She said Taiwan would still take part in "technical" aspects of WHO work, and pointed to cooperation between China and Taiwan on issues such as emergency rescue and reporting of communicable-disease epidemics.
Despite the lockout, weeks in the making, Taiwan's health minister has arrived in Geneva, and about a dozen Taiwan allies are expected to push for Taiwan to be granted access to the assembly — a move all but certain to fail because of Beijing's blockade.
Relations across the Taiwan Strait have soured considerably since Tsai took power a year ago after what appeared to be a hopeful start. Her health minister at the time shook hands with Li at last year's assembly, expressing hopes for better cooperation with China on issues such as the fight against life-threatening viruses.
Weeks later, though, China cut contacts with Taiwan to protest Tsai's refusal to accept the One China principle.
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.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and China continues to regard Taiwan as part of its territory, one to be recovered by force if necessary. The Democratic Progressive Party advocates Taiwan's formal independence as an island nation.
Taiwan is not a United Nations member state, and the U.N. has rejected its efforts to take part this year. U.N. officials have also said they would reject journalists who present Taiwanese identity papers as part of their accreditation requests to cover the 10-day assembly.