Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Too late and too high a price

Taiwan felt indignation and outrage over Beijing's demeaning treatment of it at the World Health Assembly (WHA) last Monday, then the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait indicated to the Straits Exchange Foundation that it was willing to donate medical supplies to help this country's battle against SARS, including 200,000 pieces of protective clothing, 100,000 N95 masks and five ambulances with quarantine capability. The move of course immediately invited a lot of discussions and mixed feelings, but mostly disgust .

No one would be naive enough to think there is any noble or even half-decent intention behind Beijing's move. The Chinese leaders can't possibly be trying to ease the injured feelings of Taiwanese, since the issue apparently has never graced their minds before. For example, while Beijing's opposition to Taiwan gaining observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO) was predictable, it could have at least handled the matter more sensitively, such as focusing on under-the-table persuasion, in view of the serious outbreak of SARS here.

But repeatedly on public occasions, even at the WHA meeting, Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi (吳儀) used very harsh language to remind Taiwan about its "lack of qualification" to join the WHO and lied about Beijing helping Taiwan combat SARS. In fact, China called Taiwan's efforts to gain observer status this year "immoral" and "a conspiracy" in its statement to the WHA. Members of the Chinese delegation to the WHA were equally abusive to the Taiwanese media contingent, almost spitting out "[Taiwan] doesn't know its place" and "Who cares about you."

Then on Friday, as a result of Chinese pressure, the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York was literally blocked from the doors of the UN headquarters after he was invited by the UN Correspondents Association to brief it on Taiwan's efforts to join the WHO and fight SARS.

Beijing is not trying to help Taiwan -- just the opposite in fact. If it really wanted to help, it would not have objected to Taiwan gaining WHO observer status. Whatever assistance it has offered is too little and much too late. The third peak of infections here is estimated to be coming under control and Center for Disease Control Director Su Yi-jen (蘇益仁) expressed optimism on Friday that the outbreak nationwide would be under control within a month.

Under the circumstances, if the government accepts China's "offer of help," it will have to pay a heavy price. First, Beijing will probably try to take credit for bringing the epidemic here under control. Second, accepting the donation would be a concession to Beijing's lies -- that Taiwan has no need to join the WHO, because it is receiving sufficient help from China as a "province."

The government should show a little spine and say no thank you to China's offer. Or tell the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait to donate the material -- via a non-governmental organization such as the International Red Cross -- directly to hospitals. After all, any foreign government or individual can make such a donation. If Beijing thinks it that channel is too insulting, that is just too bad.

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