Washington, May 6 (CNA) United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called on the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) to invite Taiwan to this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA), saying it is within a WHO director-general’s power to do so.

In a press briefing, Pompeo reiterated Washington’s support for Taipei’s participation as an observer in this year’s WHA, the decision-making body of the WHO, which will be held online from May 18-19 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“Today I want to call upon all nations, including those in Europe, to support Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly and in other relevant United Nations venues,” he said.

He also urged WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite Taiwan to the WHA, “as he has the power to do, and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions.”

Pompeo was referring to the fact that Tedros’ predecessor, Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍), had sent invitations to Taiwan to observe the WHA from 2009 to 2016.

Asked to comment if he will consider sending an invitation to Taiwan during a WHO press event held in Geneva that day, Tedros did not answer the question, referring it instead to WHO Legal Counsel Derek Walton.

Walton reiterated the WHO’s stance that the WHO secretariat has no authority to make such a decision unilaterally as it is to be made by all 194 member states.

“The involvement, if any, of observers from ‘Taiwan, China’ in that assembly is a question for the 194 member governments, it’s their decision,” he noted.

He also said that a number of member states have already raised proposals to discuss the matter at this year’s WHA.

He continued that whether or not Taiwan is invited to the assembly this year, there are “well-established arrangements” for health experts from “Taiwan, China” to work with the WHO on technical health matters.

Taiwan participated in the WHA meetings from 2009 to 2016 as on observer under the name “Chinese Taipei” amid warmer cross-Taiwan Strait relations under the then-Kuomintang (KMT) administration, which prioritized reducing cross-strait tension and building friendly ties with Beijing.

Since 2017, however, China has persuaded the WHO not to invite Taiwan, in line with its hardline stance on cross-strait ties after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in May 2016.

Explaining its decision for not sending invitations to Taiwan since 2017, the WHO said in 2019 that “previous invitations to the WHA have been issued on the basis of a ‘cross-strait understanding,’” and that the “absence of such an understanding” in recent years has resulted in the fact that no more such invitations have been issued.

According to the WHO Constitution, although the specialized agency under the U.N. does not recognize observer status, the rules of WHA procedure give the WHO director-general the right to invite observers to the annual WHA meeting, provided that they are “States that have made application for membership, territories on whose behalf application for associate membership has been made, and States which have signed but not accepted the Constitution.”

In response to Pompeo’s remarks, Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Thursday expressed gratitude, saying that it will continue to work closely with the U.S. and other like-minded countries in sharing Taiwan’s success in containing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The ministry also issued a protest over Walton’s remarks that called the nation “Taiwan, China,” saying the designation belittled the nation’s sovereignty.