Bipartisan lawmakers push to have Taiwan included in World Health Agency meeting, China pushes back

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Citing the global fight against coronavirus, a group of bipartisan U.S. lawmakers on Friday wrote to nearly 60 countries on behalf of Taiwan, asking them to support the country's inclusion in the World Health Organization.

The letter was signed by Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking Republican member, as well as Sens. Jim Risch, R-ID, the Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the committee's ranking Democratic member.

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"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 letter read.

It also states that Taiwan's resources and expertise are assets that could benefit the international community as it struggles to deal with a novel coronavirus that has infected more than 4.1million people and killed more than 283,000 worldwide.

Reuters reported the letter was sent to "like-minded" countries that were friends and allies of Taiwan, including Canada, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

Taiwan has been seeking to join a May 17 ministerial meeting of the World Health Organization's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, with strong backing from the United States and several other U.S.-friendly nations.

The letter also highlights Taiwan's resources and expertise in fighting infectious diseases.

"Diseases know no borders," the letter read. "We urge your government to join us in addressing the pressing issue of Taiwan's inclusion in global health and safety organization. Given what the world has endured as a result of COVID-19, UN Member States joining together to insist Taiwan be invited to the upcoming virtual WHA session in May 2020 is the right place to start."

China has flexed its global might to exclude Taiwan from the WHO, a United Nations agency, and claims Taiwan is a breakaway province under its "one China" policy and refuses to acknowledge Taiwan as anything other than a part of China.

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Beijing has also predicted Taiwan's effort to join the meeting will fail and said the claims the push to include Taiwan is more about politics and less about global health concerns.

On Monday, the WHO said it doesn't have the power to invite Taiwan to participate in the annual meeting.

"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,” said WHO principal legal officer Steven Solomon. “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.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has the authority to extend an invitation to the island nation.

“I also call upon WHO Director-General Tedros to invite Taiwan to observe this month's WHA, as he has the power to do, and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions,” Pompeo said last week, according to The Hill.

From 2006-2016, Taiwan participated in WHA meetings as an observer under "Chinese Taipei." It has not attended the annual meeting since.

Taiwan has raised its profile considerably during the pandemic, donating equipment to countries in need while Beijing has struggled to rebrand itself as a global leader after allegedly sitting on life-saving data for months.

In addition, Taiwan has donated millions of masks to the United States as well as some of the hardest-hit countries like Italy and France while China has had to deal with one crisis after another over the faulty test kits it has sold at marked-up prices to several countries.

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Spain, for example, got a double dose of poorly made China test kits. Late last month, Spain's Health Ministry said the order of 640,000 antigen coronavirus tests were canceled after health officials once again found the tests were not sensitive enough to detect the virus.

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Spain had initially bought $467 million in medical supplies from China, including 950 ventilators, 5.5 million testing kits, 11 million gloves, and more than half a billion protective face masks.

However, soon after the shipment was received, the Spanish government announced plans to return 9,000 "quick result" test kits to China because they were deemed substandard, specifically the sensibility of the test was around 30 percent when it should have been higher than 80 percent.