As if it didn't already have its hands full fighting the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Taiwan also has to deal with the appalling way it is treated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO's disregard for the health and welfare of the people of this country for political reasons is no better than China's deliberate concealment of the epidemic. At least the Chinese government has finally managed to muster a long-overdue and now meaningless apology for its shameful conduct. When will the WHO correct its own mistake?
The WHO has consistently referred to this country as "Taiwan, China" or "Taiwan Province" of China, totally disregarding the nation's sovereignty. Perhaps in the eyes of the international community the statehood of Taiwan continues to be a question open to debate. But, as a supposedly non-political international organization, it is entirely out of place for the WHO to take sides in this debate. The least it could do is to remain neutral on the issue by simply referring to this country as "Taiwan," without making any further interpretation of the country's status.
When asked by the media about the issue, WHO officials have replied that what Taiwan is called is a "political question" about which they cannot comment. But by reducing Taiwan to a mere Chinese province in its lists and news releases, the WHO is clearly "commenting" on the issue.
Worse yet, in the global battle against SARS, Taiwan is excluded from all WHO assistance. The only outside help it has received thus far is from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WHO officials have openly conceded it is "difficult" to offer Taiwan any assistance since it is not a WHO member. But doesn't this demonstrate the need to allow Taiwan to join the organization, or at the very least let it be an observer? If Taiwan was truly a Chinese province, then it should be able to receive WHO assistance via China, which is already a WHO member. In reality, that is entirely impossible, because China and Taiwan are ruled by different governments.
The message is loud and clear: Unless Taiwan reduces itself to become a Chinese province, no WHO help will be forthcoming, however badly needed this assistance may be. China naturally did not miss the chance to highlight this point by offering to help Taiwan combat the SARS epidemic. In view of China's disastrous handling of the epidemic so far, only a fool would accept that kind of offer.
Much to the comfort of Taiwanese, some true friends have expressed their support. In the past few days, both the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group and the US Congress' Taiwan Caucus have criticized the WHO and called for Taiwan to be allowed to be a WHO observer. Furthermore, on Thursday, the Canadian Parliament passed a resolution supporting Taiwan's WHO bid. The US House of Representatives has also passed legislation requiring the US secretary of state to help Taiwan join the organization.
On the other hand, there is Thailand, which treats travelers from Taiwan the same as those from China by requiring them to undergo physical checkups upon arrival and wear surgical masks for the first 14 days of their visits. This is obviously because Thailand thinks that Taiwan is part of China. It is very likely that Thailand was influenced by the WHO's attitude.