U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 5 mins

U.S. lawmakers urge support for Taiwan at WHO, amid COVID-19 fight -sources

Patricia Zengerle

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, May 8 (Reuters) - The leaders of U.S. congressional foreign affairs committees have written to more than 50 countries asking them to support Taiwan's inclusion in the World Health Organization, citing the need for the broadest effort possible to fight the coronavirus pandemic, congressional sources said on Friday.

Taiwan, which is not a member of the United Nations, has been excluded from the WHO, which is a U.N. agency, due to objections from China.

"As the world works to combat the spread of the COVID-19, a novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, it has never been more important to ensure all countries prioritize global health and safety over politics," the lawmakers said in their letter, sent on Friday, and seen by Reuters.

It was signed by Representatives Eliot Engel, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Michael McCaul, the panel's ranking Republican member, as well as Senators Jim Risch, the Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Bob Menendez, the panel's ranking Democratic member.

One source said the letter was sent to "like-minded" countries, large and small, seen as friends and allies of Taiwan, including Canada, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

The letter was sent as President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have ramped up criticism of China over the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. The Trump administration has accused China of making the pandemic worse by hiding information.

Last month, Trump announced that he was suspending aid to the WHO, accusing it of being "China-centric" and promoting China's "disinformation" about the outbreak, assertions the WHO denies.

Some of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress have echoed the president's criticisms. Democrats have criticized Trump for attacking the WHO during a global health crisis, while saying it needs reforms.

Taiwan has been seeking to join a ministerial meeting this month of the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), with backing from Washington and several U.S. allies.

But China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province under its "one China" policy, said Taiwan's effort to join the meeting will fail, insisting its efforts are based on politics, not health concerns.

Taiwan has argued that its exclusion from the WHO has created a dangerous gap in the global fight against the coronavirus.

In their letter, the U.S. lawmakers said Taiwan's resources and expertise are assets that could benefit the world as it struggles with the pandemic. They noted that Taiwan was invited to participate in annual WHA meetings from 2009 to 2016.

"No Member State, China included, should be allowed to manipulate UN materials, statements, or positions in ways that do not accurately reflect UN policy and are inconsistent with the policies of many UN Member States," the letter said. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler)