The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan has pledged to continue to uphold the one-China principle, as she met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Xi commended the WHO for adhering to the one-China principle. The principle holds that there is only one sovereign state of “China” encompassing both mainland China and Taiwan, though neither government recognises the other as legitimate.

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Xi Jinping (L), Margaret Chan (R). Photo: World Health Organization/L Cipriani.

Since 2009, Taiwan has been an observer at the WHO under the name “Chinese Taipei” under an agreement between then-Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, the Chinese government, and the WHO under Chan’s leadership. Last May, its decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, mentioned for the first time the one-China principle in its invitation to Taiwanese delegates.

Chan said the WHO will strengthen cooperation with China and continue to firmly pursue the one-China principle. She also noted that China’s health care reform serves as a role-model for other countries in achieving Universal Health Coverage, a cornerstone for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the WHO said in a statement.

Xi also welcomed the organisation’s participation in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, promising to build a “healthy silk road” together with the UN agency. He presented as a gift a statue highlighting acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine.

Meanwhile, Xi’s wife Peng Liyuan received awards from the WHO and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS for her advocacy work on HIV and tuberculosis prevention.

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Xi Jinping (L) presented a gift to the WHO. Photo: World Health Organization/L Cipriani.

This is the first time a Chinese president has visited the WHO headquarters, RTHK reported. Chan met Xi in Beijing last July.

Chan is a Hong Kong-Canadian physician and has been serving the WHO as the Director-General representing China since 2006. Her term ends in June.

Chan headed the Hong Kong Department of Health between 1994 and 2003. During her tenure as health director, she attracted heavy criticism from lawmakers, SARS victims and their family for believing in misleading information from the Chinese authorities, and for not acting fast enough.

An expert report commissioned by the government concluded that Chan was not at fault but rather Hong Kong’s health care system was to blame.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.