Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: WHO must ignore China's contempt

The SARS outbreak that originated in China has resulted in disasters for Taiwan and several other countries. Meanwhile, Japan is now voicing support for Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) after witnessing the SARS outbreaks in China and Taiwan. Japan is calling for observership status for Taiwan to stop a potential loophole in the global epidemic control network while circumventing political problems.

Recently the Japanese government has notified China twice of its desire to support Taiwan's entry into the WHO. Beijing has expressed its opposition, but Japan's recent gestures have been a great boost for Taiwan's pursuit of the rights of its 23 million people. After the SARS epidemic is over, the WHO will inevitably have to review China's cover-up of its epidemic. At that time, the serious harm caused to Taipei will also come under the international spotlight. Asian countries which have close relations with Taiwan are likely to take a more serious look at the consequences of this nation being excluded from global epidemic control -- if only for their own self-interest -- because they could very well be the victims of this lapse.

In an attempt to stop the WHO's assistance to Taiwan, Chinese Vice Premier and Minister of Health Wu Yi (吳儀) made the absurd statement last week, "The health of the Taiwan people is being taken care of by China." Such a blatant assertion will only highlight the ugly face of the Chinese regime in the eyes of WHO officials. China now has its hands full trying to deal with its own SARS epidemic. After contributing to the spread of SARS by its secrecy and non-cooperation with the WHO, China has the temerity to claim that it is taking care of Taiwan. No wonder most Taiwanese want their country to maintain a good distance from China.

The "attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health" has been the WHO's objective since its inception. However, Beijing's cover-up and obstructionism in the SARS crisis threw a monkey wrench into the WHO's epidemic control network. Only when the situation began to spin out of control in China and reports of SARS outbreaks emerged in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Canada and Taiwan did the global health body really began to intervene. More than 500 people have died from SARS, thousands more have been hospitalized and tens of thousands have been quarantined. The economic losses incurred by these outbreaks are difficult to estimate.

The WHO must never allow a repeat of this mistake. It must formulate a strategy to deal with the Chinese government's habitual cover-ups and to prevent damage to the security and welfare of people around the world.

The people of Taiwan long ago lost hope in Beijing's capacity for soul-searching. After the 921 earthquake three years ago, China tried to block international aid to Taiwan. When did the Chinese leadership ever care about the plight of the people of Taiwan? The WHO should understand that excluding Taiwan for political reasons can incur a huge price. Allowing the people of this country to be exposed to the threat of disease is also against the spirit of humanitarianism.

The SARS outbreak has told us clearly that China is incapable of taking care of Taiwan. On the contrary, China by its intransigence has harmed the lives of Taiwanese time and again. The WHO should help Taiwan remove this threat instead of kowtowing to Beijing and abetting in its vice.

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