Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization is necessary to effectively fight the spread of a new coronavirus.

"It will be difficult to maintain health and prevent further infections in this region if (Taiwan) is excluded for political reasons," Abe said during a parliamentary session. "We will continue to make our country's stance clear at the WHO."

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be brought under its control, by force if necessary, and objects to the self-governing island's participation in the WHO and other international organizations as a different entity.

Abe made the remarks after an opposition party lawmaker said Taiwan was not allowed to participate in an emergency WHO meeting on the outbreak of the deadly virus in Geneva on Jan. 22.

Both Japan and Taiwan have confirmed cases of infections with the pneumonia-causing virus that has been spreading rapidly from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Between 2009 and 2016, Taiwan was allowed to attend the international body's annual meetings as an observer. But China has hardened its stance since Taiwan's independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016.

Japan has built ties with Taiwan on a nongovernmental basis over the years, with Taiwanese visitors accounting for about 15 percent of all travelers from overseas in 2019.

As of Thursday afternoon, the death toll from the viral outbreak in Wuhan has reached 170 and more than 7,700 cases of infections have been confirmed in mainland China.

Infections have also spread to other parts of the world, including Europe and North America.

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