President-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) recent comments about how Taiwan should go about this year’s WHO membership application are troubling.
Taiwan is a de facto independent state with unsettled legal status. Japan gave up Taiwan in the San Francisco Peace Treaty without designating a receiver. Therefore, Taiwan should use the geographic name “Taiwan” to apply for the WHO entry until a future referendum on the status of the island is conducted by the 23 million people in Taiwan.
“Taiwan” is the name used by most Taiwanese when telling others where they are from and is also the name used by Taiwanese manufacturers to label where their products are made. The name “Taiwan” is known by most people in the world. Applying to the WHO under this name eliminates any confusion.
A country can be admitted under one of the three categories listed under the guidelines of the WHO. Since Taiwan is not yet a member of the UN, it cannot be admitted under the first category which has the prerequisite of already being a UN member and accepting the WHO’s Constitution.
Further, since Taiwan conducts its own foreign affairs, it does not fall into the third category which is for associate members of existing states.
Nevertheless, Taiwan can apply for WHO membership under the second category and should continue to campaign consistently in this way.
Even though China will make Taiwan’s WHO membership application difficult, the important thing is to gather the momentum of support and sympathy for Taiwan. The understanding of how dangerous it is to exclude Taiwan from the global health network and a gradual shift of support and cooperation by the medical professionals are just as important as dealing with the politicians.
Hence, despite all odds against it, Taiwan should maintain private contacts with medical professionals, keeping citizens informed on health issues through medical blogs instead of waiting for epidemic alerts from the WHO.
The name “Chinese Taipei” was an unfortunate measure adopted through negotiations with the Olympic Committee (IOC) before Taiwan’s democratization and was merely intended to enable our athletes to participate in the Olympic Games. Taiwanese should not voluntarily jump into the trap ourselves with new membership applications.
While some people believe that since World War II, under the laws of war Taiwan is an unincorporated overseas territory of the US, Ma’s suggestion to use “Chinese Taipei” for Taiwan’s WHO membership application is arguable whereas Taiwan is the inarguable geographic name of the island. Any adjective combined with the name of a city is not an appropriate name representing Taiwan.
A flip-flop of names in the WHO membership application will hurt the Taiwanese, it will only leave the international community with an image that Taiwan is not consistent in its stance on its identity.
Ma’s intended approach will backfire and benefit only the Chinese authorities, especially using the adjective “Chinese,” with its implication of People’s Republic of China authority.
Doing the Chinese authorities a favor by diminishing Taiwan into a province of China is certainly not in the interest of the Taiwanese.
Policies that will put Taiwan at a further disadvantage against its unfriendly neighbor should be avoided. Seeking to improve the general welfare of Taiwanese should be Ma’s agenda.