Taiwan on Tuesday took issue with a statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) the previous day, which said that it had "no mandate" from its members to invite Taiwan to the annual meeting of its decision-making body this year.
Based on precedent, the WHO has two avenues for inviting observers to attend the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) -- through a resolution passed by the WHA or an invitation issued by the WHO director-general, Taiwan's foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou (歐江安）said at a press conference.
She was responding to comments by WHO principal legal officer Steven Solomon, who told reporters Monday that the WHO director-general could not invite Taiwan to join the WHA meeting this year as an observer without the consent of its members.
"To put it crisply, director-generals only extend invitations when it's clear that member states support doing so, that director-generals have a mandate, a basis to do so," Solomon said in an online press conference. "Today however, the situation is not the same. Instead of clear support, there are divergent views among member states and no basis there for -- no mandate -- for the DG to extend an invitation (to Taiwan)."
He said that from 2009 to 2016, the then WHO director-general had invited Taiwan to participate in the WHA as an observer because it was a "diplomatically agreeable solution" reached and supported by member states.
At Tuesday's press conference, however, Ou took issue with Solomon's comments, saying that "in fact, the WHO Director-General does have the discretionary power to invite observers to the WHA."
She also disputed the WHO's interpretation of a 1971 United Nations General Assembly resolution, which Solomon had said was "still applicable" to the WHO today.
The resolution recognized Beijing as the only legitimate representative of China to the U.N., which resulted in Taiwan's departure from the U.N. and all its special agencies, including the WHO.
Ou said, however, that the resolution did not authorize China to represent the people of Taiwan in the U.N. and its special agencies."
"The U.N. Resolution only addressed the issue of China's representation, and did not touch on the issue of Taiwan," she said, calling on the WHO to maintain "neutrality and professionalism" and to recognize the fact that Taiwan and China are separate jurisdictions.
Ou also said Taiwan continues to protest against "a secret memorandum of understanding regarding Taiwan," which allegedly was signed in 2005 by China and the WHO to establish protocols and set limitations on the participation of Taiwanese medical personnel in WHO technical meetings.
"Considering that it was a secret agreement between China and the WHO, without Taiwan's consent, it is not binding on Taiwan," she said.
Meanwhile, Solomon said Monday that the success of a series of proposals submitted to the WHO by 13 member states for Taiwan to join the WHA as an observer is dependent on the "political will and political engagement" of the member states.
According to Taiwan's foreign ministry, the proposals were sent by 13 of Taiwan's diplomatic allies, namely Nicaragua, Palau, Eswatini, Saint Lucia, the Marshall Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Belize, Haiti, Nauru, Paraguay, Tuvalu, Guatemala and Honduras.