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Hoping for invitation to WHO meeting, Taiwan gathers more support

Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu arrives to a news conference in Taipei

By Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan said it still hoped to be invited to the World Health Organization's annual assembly opening in Geneva on Sunday, as support for its participation was growing despite China's efforts to isolate the democratically governed island.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu noted several diplomatic allies and friendly countries had issued statements of support for Taiwan's participation, or arranged bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the WHO assembly, set to run from May 21-30.

"Support for us is stronger than in the past," Wu told a news conference in Taipei on Thursday.

"Even though we still haven't received an invitation letter for the assembly this year, we haven't given up and continue to through various channels clearly express our demand to the WHO."

Taiwan is excluded from most international organizations due to objections by China, which considers the island its own despite Taiwan's claims that it is an independent country.

After China began blocking Taiwan's World Health Assembly (WHA) participation in 2017, the island started a diplomatic campaign to join the annual meeting as an observer.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement encouraging the WHO to invite Taiwan as an observer, drawing criticism from China.

On Thursday the de facto embassies in Taiwan for the United States, Australia, the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement reaffirming support for Taiwan’s participation in the WHA as an observer.

"Taiwan’s isolation from the WHA, the preeminent global health forum, is unjustified and undermines inclusive global public health cooperation and security," the statement said.

Taiwan, which is allowed to attend some technical WHO meetings, says its exclusion from the WHO hindered efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

China has in recent years ramped up diplomatic and military pressure against Taiwan to force the island to accept Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan's government rejects China's claims and says only the island's 23 million people can decide their future.

(Reporting By Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)