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Taiwan excluded from WHO annual assembly following Chinese opposition

FILE PHOTO: WHO logo seen near its headquarters in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) -Taiwan failed on Monday in its efforts to gain an invitation to the World Health Organization's annual assembly despite the island's assertion that support was growing for its participation.

The annual assembly in Geneva decided not to extend Taiwan an invitation to the event, which runs from May 21-30. China and Pakistan urged members to reject Taiwan's inclusion, while eSwatini and the Marshall Islands spoke in favour.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and says the island is not a separate country but part of "one China" governed by Beijing. China's insistence that Taiwan is not a country means that the island is excluded from many international organisations.

Taiwan condemned the WHO decision, saying it was "contemptible" of China to block its participation in global bodies and that Beijing had no right to speak for the island.

"Only Taiwan's democratically elected government can represent Taiwan's 23 million people in the WHO and other international organisations and protect the health and human rights of the Taiwanese people," its foreign ministry said.

China welcomed the decision.

"This fully shows that the one-China principle is the aspiration of the people and the trend of the times in the international community and cannot be challenged in any way," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said that before the opening of the conference, nearly 100 countries expressed their adherence to the one-China principle and their opposition to Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly by means of special letters to the WHO and statements.

"China also urges certain countries not to pretend to be confused, stop politicizing the health issue, stop interfering in China's internal affairs under the pretext of the Taiwan issue, and stop the erroneous practice of using 'Taiwan to control China'," the ministry said.

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

The island rejects China's sovereignty claims and says only the Taiwanese people can decide their future.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Bernard Orr in Beijing; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei;Editing by Rachel More, Robert Birsel and Sharon Singleton)