Taiwan's attempt to participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) was once again frustrated this year. Many overseas Taiwanese and medical professionals concerned about this issue gathered in Geneva, the venue for the WHA, together with the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan for propaganda and lobbying actions. Before leaving for Geneva, everyone was asking for an evaluation of this year's possibilities of being let in. There were also questions about the difference between WHA observer status and membership in the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO holds its assembly every May. Taiwan is only applying to qualify as an observer to the assembly. The WHO is made up of its member states, without any observers. Taiwan is thus for the time applying to become an observer to the WHA under the name of "Health Entity of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" (we are applying under the name of Taiwan, and the entity represents Taiwan's current legal status).
As for observer status, both the WHO Constitution and the WHA Rules of Procedure state that participation shall be based on invitation. Article 18, item "h" in chapter 5 of the WHO Constitution states that [the functions of the Health Assembly shall be, among other things,] "to invite any organization, international or national, governmental or non-governmental, which has responsibilities related to those of the Organization, to appoint representatives to participate, without right of vote, in its meetings or in those of the committees and conferences convened under its authority, on conditions prescribed by the Health Assem-bly; but in the case of national organizations, invitations shall be issued only with the consent of the Government concerned."
Section 2, Rule 3 in the WHA Rules of Procedure states that "the Director-General may invite States having made application for membership, territories on whose behalf application for associate membership has been made, and States which have signed but not accepted the Constitution to send observers to sessions of the Health Assembly."
Taiwan is currently relying on the latter in the hope that the WHA will pass an invitation for Taiwan to participate by citing Article 8, item h in the WHO Constitution.
Everyone sincerely hopes for Taiwanese participation in the WHA, especially now that the SARS storm is exacting a heavy death toll in this nation. I want to share the following concepts from the participation efforts from 1997 onwards, and use these concepts to evaluate the situation.
First, the WHO should not exclude Taiwan and ignore its people's right to health, but allow it to become a member. This reason has always been there, but this year there is the SARS storm, and everyone feels more deeply about it.
Second, the strongest opposition to Taiwan's becoming an observer to the WHA comes from China. It will not ease its pressure on Taiwan in response to Taipei's goodwill toward, or diminished animosity against, China. In other words, no matter how low Taiwan's profile, it will never be able to please this enemy.
Third, we should not overestimate the power of international justice. For the nations of the world, national interest is what counts. For example, if the epidemic in Taiwan becomes serious, Japan, which each year exchanges 2 million visits with Taiwan, will not be able to remain aloof and avoid being affected. Becoming a troublemaker will make it easier for Taiwan to be invited as an observer to the WHA. This is one main reason why the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was invited into the UN and it's peripheral organizations as an observer.