Foreign Affairs

NZ formally backs WHO role for Taiwan

After Winston Peters backed Taiwan's case for joining the WHO, Chinese representatives in New Zealand have fired back

The Government has formally thrown its weight behind Taiwan’s bid for a role within the World Health Organisation against the vociferous objections of China.

The announcement from Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters comes in the face of pushback from the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand, which claimed the one-China principle was “the political foundation” of relations between the two countries.

Peters caused controversy earlier this week at Parliament when he backed Taiwan’s case for WHO membership in some capacity, which is being supported by the United States and Australia.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry has called on the WHO to “cast off” China’s control of it during the coronavirus pandemic, complaining of hindrances in handling the virus within its own borders.

The WHO has said it recognises the People’s Republic of China as the “one legitimate representative of China”, in line with United Nations policy.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Peters said he had “always” backed Taiwan’s right to accession from a personal perspective.

“You've got to have every organisation in the world in the WHO if it's to have any meaning...

“In the interests of international health, you want every country in an international organisation designed to improve the world's health - it's just logic.”

While Peters at the time said the Government did not yet have any new formal position on the matter, in a statement on Thursday afternoon he confirmed New Zealand would support Taiwan’s request for an observer role at the World Health Assembly starting on May 17.

“New Zealand has always emphasised in our engagement with the World Health Organisation the importance of inclusivity and non-politicisation in global health matters. In this context, we are a longstanding and consistent supporter of Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly as an observer,” he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the importance of “timely and fulsome cooperation” in responding to public health crises and other transnational problems.

“This is not a political or geostrategic decision – it reflects the importance we place on meaningful and practical engagement with the World Health Organisation and its processes for all communities, and on the effectiveness of global health information-sharing and cooperation more broadly.”

Peters said New Zealand’s decision was consistent with its one-China policy, which remained firm.

One-China policy 'universal consensus' - embassy

Earlier in the day, the Chinese Embassy hit back in a Chinese-language statement on its website specifically responding to the minister's earlier, personal remarks.

In the statement, an embassy spokesman reiterated the one-China policy which rebuffs Taiwan’s claims to sovereignty, describing the principle as “the universal consensus of the internal community”.

“The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations composed of sovereign countries. Taiwan, as a province of China, is not eligible to join the WHO.”

The spokesman said the Chinese government had always emphasised the health and wellbeing of “Taiwan compatriots”, but its participation in any international organisations had to be handled in accordance with the one-China principle.

“The channels for Taiwan to obtain relevant WHO information and experts from Taiwan to participate in WHO technical activities are unobstructed.”

After the outbreak of Covid-19, the Chinese government had repeatedly shared with Taiwan the latest information for preventing and controlling the outbreak, the spokesman said.

Taiwan’s remarks were an “obvious political trick” designed to win independence during the pandemic, he claimed.

There were also words of caution for New Zealand, with the spokesman describing the one-China principle as “the political foundation of China-New Zealand relations”.

“China appreciates the long-term adherence of the one-China policy by the new governments since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

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