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Taiwan Granted Observer Status at WHO Body

China has dropped long-standing objections to Taiwan participating in the World Health Organization's annual assembly. The development marks a major victory in Taiwan's campaign for greater international recognition.

China has allowed Taiwan to participate in the next World Health Assembly next month. Seated before television reporters Wednesday, Taiwanese Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan displayed the invitation letter from the World Health Organization, which oversees the assembly.

Yeh reads the letter, which says "I wish to invite the Department of Health, Chinese Taipei to attend the 62nd World Health Assembly as an observer."

Taiwan has applied to attend the assembly every year since 1997, but until now, each attempt was blocked by the Beijing government. Beijing has viewed Taiwan's participation in international organizations as symbolic of sovereignty, which it opposes.

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory, awaiting reunification, by force if necessary. The island has been self-governed since Nationalist forces fled the mainland following their defeat by the Communist army in 1949.

In 1971, Taiwan lost its United Nations seat as the representative government of China. A year later, Taiwan was kicked out of the WHO.

Since taking office last May, Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou worked to reduce tensions with Beijing by improving economic ties and cultural exchanges. He took credit Wednesday for the invitation to the World Health Assembly.

Mr. Ma says the result certainly has to do with his policies of enhancing cross-strait relations and foreign affairs.

Following the SARS outbreak in 2003, Taiwan officials pushed harder for participation at the World Health Assembly, which will give access to key medical information when there are international public health threats, such as the current swine flu outbreak.