US backs calls for Taiwan to get role at UN health assembly

GENEVA (AP) — The United States is backing calls for Taiwan to be granted observer status at the U.N. health agency’s biggest annual gathering, the U.S. health secretary said Monday.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar spoke to reporters in Geneva on the sidelines of the start of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly, which China’s government has prevented Taiwan from attending.

China claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan.

For years, China allowed Taiwan to send observers to the assembly, but has locked out its envoys in recent years amid tensions between China’s Communist government and the government of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

“We support Taiwan having the type of status it had previously here at the World Health Assembly,” Azar said.

“We think it’s important that 23 million individuals have a voice and are able to see the proceedings here and be part of that as appropriate, as consistent with past historic practices,” Azar said.

Despite the difference of opinion over Taiwan, Azar said “we have an excellent relationship with China, especially on the health front.”

Relations aren’t necessarily strong on the trade front. The two countries are in the midst of a trade spat and there are fears it could escalate. The Trump administration has slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese goods, which has prompted Beijing to respond with its retaliatory measures.

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