New Zealand says it backs Taiwan's role in WHO due to success with coronavirus

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand on Friday weighed in on the debate around whether Taiwan should be allowed to join the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying the country has a lot to offer given its success in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

"Taiwan has something to offer at the WHO right at the moment," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at a news conference when asked if New Zealand would support Taiwan's inclusion in WHO as an observer.

Robertson was addressing a daily media briefing on the country's fight against the coronavirus.

Taiwan's exclusion from the U.N. body, due to objections from China which claims the island as one of its provinces, has infuriated the Taiwanese government which has reported fewer cases of coronavirus than many neighbours due to early detection and prevention work.

Robertson said Taiwan has employed a number of successful methods of dealing with the virus and have a number of epidemiologists and public health experts who have provided a great deal of advice that many countries have benefited from.

"They have been an observer at the WHO in the past and I think in this time of the post COVID-19 crisis, there is room for them to be there again," he said.

Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly 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, whom China views as a separatist, a charge she rejects.

Earlier this week, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters told local media that he backs Taiwan's case for joining WHO.

The United States has supported Taiwan's participation at the assembly as an observer, adding to tension with China over its handling of the new coronavirus.

Robertson said New Zealand continues to strongly value the relationship with China, its biggest trading partner.

"It’s a relationship with a lot of depth, it’s a relationship where we have come over time to rely on one another and support one another. Nothing has changed about that at all," he added.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon and Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry)