President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration have pinned almost everything that affects the nation’s future — military security, the economy and participation in international organizations — on China. Yet the number of Chinese visitors, the benefits of direct cross-strait transportation and exports to China have all fallen short of public expectations. With its sinking approval ratings, the Ma government is hoping China will help Taiwan secure observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) this year and thus remedy the situation.
Because the Chinese government promised to help in the joint communique issued by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in 2005, the government is confident about the bid to join the WHA.
But some complications seem to have arisen.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, some members of the pan-blue camp said Taiwan should seek the help of the WHO by going through Beijing. In March 2005, Lien visited Beijing, leading to a Lien-Hu joint communique that said the Chinese government would help Taiwan within the “one China” framework.
Two months later, China and the WHO signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) listing eight Taiwanese seaports as Chinese quarantine ports and stating that exchanges between Taiwan and the WHO should follow the “one China” principle and be approved by China.
This kind of participation is even worse than “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.
The KMT’s response to the MOU was unexpected. Not long after it was signed, Chang Jung-kung (張榮恭), director of the KMT’s mainland affairs department, said he had obtained a copy of the MOU and supported it.
After Hu made a speech last year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of China’s “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” in which he made six proposals to promote peaceful cross-strait development, Chang commended Hu for coming up with solutions.
As long as “Taiwan achieves its goal to join the WHA, the public should not oppose it,” Chang said.
He said the KMT had achieved something the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could never have achieved.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also boasted that the bid for WHA membership could succeed.
Recently, however, the Ma government’s readiness to accept Chinese arrangements has been challenged. On Mar. 31, the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee passed two bills proposed separately by DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) and KMT Legislator Ho Tsai-feng (侯彩鳳) that would restrict the government from accepting any arrangement with the WHO that could compromise Taiwan’s sovereignty.
This compelled Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) to promise that Taiwan would not accept participation in the WHA based on the framework stipulated in the MOU.
But that promise was worth little: On April 5, an official confirmed that the Department of Health had been given the password to access the International Health Regulations (IHR) information portal late last month, enabling Taiwan to contact the WHO directly.
The department said the process was based on the Olympic framework, when in fact it followed the Hong Kong/Macau model outlined in the MOU. Under the Olympic framework, Taiwan is considered an autonomous and independent member, but now Taiwan will be a point of contact, meaning that the nation falls under China’s membership rather than being a member of its own right. The government’s acceptance without protest ran counter to the bills.