Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officials yesterday reiterated that they were optimistic that Taiwan would receive an invitation to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) this year, although they said there was a backup plan in case an invitation was not forthcoming.
On the sidelines of a morning meeting of the legislature’s Health and Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達) said that many of Taiwan’s allies, including the US, are helping secure an invitation to the WHA, which is scheduled to be held from May 23 to May 28 in Geneva, Switzerland.
“In the meantime, we have maintained close contact with the WHO secretary-general. I think there is still a great possibility that we would receive an invitation and be able to attend this year’s session,” Linghu said.
Linghu declined to reveal details of the measures the government would take should it not receive an invitation, saying that the foreign ministry and the Ministry of Health and Welfare are engaged in the relevant preparations.
However, when answering questions from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) during the committee meeting, Minister of Health and Welfare Chiang Been-huang (蔣丙煌) said the government has not ruled out sending representatives to sit in the public gallery if it does not receive an invitation, as was done in 2009.
Taiwan first participated in the WHA in 2009 as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei,” an arrangement subject to annual renewal with Beijing’s consent.
It has attended every assembly since then, but there is concern that Beijing might try to block an invite this year to send a message to the new government that takes office on May 20.
Foreign ministry officials were also quizzed on the issue during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee by New Power Party Legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明).
“The foreign ministry seems to think that there is still a good chance that we will receive an invitation and will attend this year’s WHA session. It that really so?” Hsu asked Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Javier Hou (侯清山).
“There is still a chance,” Hou said, adding that to his understanding, the health ministry already has a backup plan.
Hou also said that the EU was helping Taiwan in its bid for an invitation.
Department of International Organizations Director-General Michael Hsu (徐佩勇) said that not all observers receive an invitation at the same time and that the foreign ministry has sought through other countries to understand the WHO’s operational processes regarding the assembly.
Pressed by Hsu Yung-ming on the likelihood of Taiwan attending the WHA if an invitation fails to arrive before the deadline for registering for the forum on Monday next week, Michael Hsu said there was a backup plan, but declined to discuss details.
The foreign ministry issued a statement later in the day saying that its representative office in Geneva has conveyed to the WHO the government’s plan to follow precedent and send a delegation to attend the WHA in a “professional and pragmatic” manner.
“The office also urged the WHO to send out an invitation at the earliest date possible, to which the UN agency said it is still in the process of preparing an invitation for us,” the foreign ministry said.