US urges WHO to invite Taiwan to observe May meeting

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Blinken visits Denver to participate in Cities Summit of the Americas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is encouraging the World Health Organization to invite Taiwan as an observer at its annual meeting in Geneva from May 21 to 30, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, in remarks that provoked criticism from China.

China, which considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces, began blocking its participation in the WHO's annual assembly from 2017, in a diplomatic campaign to isolate the island, which rejects the Chinese sovereignty claims.

"Inviting Taiwan as an observer would exemplify the WHO’s commitment to an inclusive, 'health for all' approach to international health cooperation," Blinken said in a statement.

The U.S. support for participation is in line with Washington's one-China policy, he added.

In a statement, Taiwan's foreign ministry thanked the United States for its strong support for participation, adding that the island's exclusion would be "completely beyond reason" and harm global health co-operation.

Excluded from most global groups due to Beijing's objections, Taiwan says its exclusion from the WHO hampered efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It is allowed to attend some technical WHO meetings, however.

In Beijing, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry said the United States' comments were confusing the public, and urged it to avoid using the WHO assembly meeting to "hype up" Taiwan-related issues.

"Taiwan's participation in the activities of international organisations, including WHO, must be handled in accordance with the one-China principle," Wang Wenbin told a regular press conference on Wednesday.

"We once again urge the U.S. side to abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-U.S. joint communiques," Wang said, urging the United States to implement commitments by its leaders not to support "Taiwan independence".

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson and Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and Bernard Orr in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)