U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged the World Health Organization to invite Taiwan to its annual meeting as an observer as it did prior to 2017.

Before the WHO's decision-making body holds the meeting on May 21 to 30 in Geneva, the U.S. top diplomat released a statement saying that excluding Taiwan from the gathering is "unjustified and undermines inclusive global public health cooperation and security, which the world demands."

Photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020, shows the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The call came amid heightened tensions over Taiwan between the United States and China, which claims the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be brought under its control, by force if necessary.

Taiwan has been excluded from the World Health Assembly since 2017 because of opposition from China. Since the 2016 election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Beijing, which views her as a separatist, has been ratcheting up pressure on the island.

Blinken said that Taiwan is "a reliable partner, a vibrant democracy, and a force for good in the world" and the United States will continue to advocate for its return as an observer at the assembly and for "its meaningful and robust participation throughout the U.N. system and in international fora."

He said U.S. support for Taiwan is in accordance with Washington's longtime "one-China policy," which recognizes the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China.

In Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed China's firm opposition to the U.S. statement on Taiwan, saying it is "misguided and misleading" and intended to "connive at and support separatist acts for Taiwan independence."

Beijing urges Washington to "stop hyping up issues related to Taiwan using WHA," Wang said at a press conference.