Foreign Minister Winston Peters is courting fresh problems in New Zealand's diplomatic relationship with China by publicly backing Taiwan's bid to participate again in the World Health Organisation.

Speaking to reporters at Parliament, he was asked if he supported Taiwan rejoining the WHO as championed by the United States and Australia, and he said: "I always have, personally. You've got to have every organisation in the world in the WHO if it's to have any meaning."

He said he had supported that position for 30 years.

"In the interests on international health you want every country in an international organisation designed to improve the world's health. It's just logic."


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Asked what New Zealand's position was, he said "I'll let you know when we make a formal announcement".

Asked whether, as Foreign Minister, he still supported New Zealand's longstanding One China policy – which recognises only China and not Taiwan as a sovereign state - he deflected the question and said he supported China's "one country, two systems" policy which is about Hong Kong, not Taiwan.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was more dismissive of the Taiwan question. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was more dismissive of the Taiwan question. Photo / Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also asked at a press conference today whether she supported Taiwan's readmission as an observer to the World Health Organisation and was more dismissive.

"WHO membership is not something I've spent a lot of time thinking about at present, " she said.

"It's not my decision about WHO membership as a collective institution," she said.

"There's a much wider body that makes these decisions."

Taiwan became an observer in the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, from 2009 to 2016 after the Sars crisis.


But China put pressure to block further participation with the election of Tsai Ing-wen as president in 2016.

However China has been angered by renewed pressure from the United States and Australia to open international doors for Taiwan, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which Taiwan has largely beaten.

With a population of about 24 million, it has had only 438 cases and six deaths.

The United States has also increased tensions with China over an aggressive posture in demanding an inquiry into the source of the Covid-19, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying it originated in a Wuhan laboratory.

Peters has supported similar calls but in a more diplomatic fashion, saying that threats of a boycott of Australian goods by China's ambassador to Australia may have been incorrect.

And he said he had been assured by China - Ambassador Wu Xi - that China did not make such threats.


But such is the sensitivity over Taiwan that Madam Wu registered a protest with Foreign Affairs recently when Ardern referred to Taiwan as a "country" in public comments, the Herald understands.

The chairman of the Taiwan New Zealand Business Council, Charles Finny, welcomed Peters' comments.

"It is a nonsense not having Taiwan a full part of the World health Organisation process because they have demonstrated they are world leaders in their ability to address the these types of challenges and by not having them part of the process, we create a global vulnerability.

Charles Finny, chairman of the Taiwan New Zealand Business Council. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Charles Finny, chairman of the Taiwan New Zealand Business Council. Photo / Kenny Rodger

"On issues like this, it is important to put politics to one side and have everyone in the room to try and address what is a global problem."

He said he would personally like New Zealand to be "even more fulsome" in support of Taiwanese participation in the World Health Organisation in some form.

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At the very least it should be an observer, and ideally a member, said Finny.


It was already a full member of the World Trade Organisation and Apec, and it should be a full member of other bodies that dealt with functional issues, including the World Health Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, he said.

"It's a nonsense having 24 million people in a full democracy who travel here in large numbers, who travel around the world in large numbers very close to the epicentre of all this, not included in the global process." The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

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