TAIPEI - Taiwan's health minister rejected on Friday China's main condition for the island to be able to take part in the World Health Organization (WHO) - that it accepts it is part of China - ahead of a key meeting of the body during a pandemic.
Non-WHO member Taiwan has lobbied to take part as an observer in next week's World Heath Assembly (WHA), drawing strong objections from Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces.
Taiwan says the coronavirus pandemic has made it more urgent than ever that it be allowed proper access to the WHO.
China says Taiwan can only participate under the "one China" principle, in which it accepts it is a part of China.
China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party refused to do this, and so the political foundation for Taiwan's WHO participation had "ceased to exist".
Speaking at a news conference in Taipei to press home Taiwan's desire to take part, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said there was no way Taiwan would do this.
"I have no way to accept something which does not exist," Chen said, adding that Taiwan would not give up efforts to attend the health assembly, even though it has not received an invitation.
The issue has taken on broader diplomatic significance thanks to the strong support from the United States and Japan in particular for Taiwan to attend the WHA, to China's anger.
China says it has the right to represent Taiwan on the international stage. Taiwan says that only its democratically elected government can speak for the island's 23 million people.
"We can represent our own people," Taiwan Deputy Foreign Minister Kelly Hsieh told the same news conference in Taipei. "We hope the WHO can set aside political considerations, and be neutral and professional."
Taiwan attended the WHA as an observer from 2009-2016 when Taipei-Beijing relations were warmer.
But China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who China views as a separatist, an accusation she rejects.
The WHO says it has no mandate to invite Taiwan to the WHA and that only member states can decide.