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A security stands guard during Taiwan's Ministry of Health and Welfare's news conference on how Taiwan would react if it is not invited to the World Health Assembly (WHA), in Taipei, Taiwan May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

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By J.R. Wu

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will send a delegation to a U.N. health meeting even though it does not have an invitation, the government said on Tuesday, as it warned China that efforts to exclude it could lead to "irreversible" damage to ties.

Self-ruled Taiwan wants to attend a May 22-31 annual meeting in Geneva of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), but it has accused Beijing of obstructing its efforts.

China views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province to be taken back with the use of force, if necessary, and other countries and international organisations should not recognise it or treat as a separate country.

Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, which recognises "one China" centred on Beijing, and it never formally takes part in U.N. meetings. But it has in the past been given observer status at some conferences, with Beijing's acquiescence.

But ties between the mainland and the island have become strained since the election last year of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who has not acknowledged the "one China" principle, unlike the island's previous China-friendly administration.

Beijing warned last year that Taiwan's acceptance of the "one China" principle was a condition for the retention of its observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA).

In an unusually assertive stand for the island, its foreign ministry said Chen Shih-chung, minister of health and welfare, would lead a delegation to Geneva for the meeting "to exchange views" with WHA members on global health and safety.

Taiwan's top China policymaking office said Beijing's "rigid and confrontational" approach would have serious consequences.

"Taiwan's public opinion cannot be lightly insulted," the island's Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.

"Beijing authorities should carefully consider the serious consequences of insisting that Taiwan not be allowed to participate in the WHA and to continue to pressure Taiwan's international space ... (It will) result in irreversible damage to cross-Strait relations."

'OBSTACLE'

Tsai's DPP said the government would not bow to China's pressure, saying Beijing's actions "seriously undermine peace and stability in cross-Strait relations".

A Chinese government delegation this month objected to a Taiwan delegation attending a meeting in Australia on conflict diamonds, forcing the removal of the Taiwan delegates.

In September, a U.N. aviation agency snubbed Taiwan by not inviting it to a conference in Canada.

Taiwan has said its allies and friends such as the United States, Canada and Japan have supported its attendance at the health meeting. It says health should not be politicized and that leaving Taiwan out of dialogue puts the world's health safety-net at risk.

China said on Monday the island's DPP administration should bear "full responsibility" for their absence from the Geneva meeting, due to its refusal to accept "one China".

"This places an obstacle for Taiwan's participation," An Fengshan, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement.

Asked whether China had asked Switzerland to block the entry of the Taiwan delegation, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing: "No matter what the DPP authorities in Taiwan do, they are doomed to fail."

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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