Less than a month before the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting on May 18, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) reportedly held clandestine talks with its Chinese counterpart in which Beijing agreed that Taiwan could participate in the WHA meeting as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei.”
The Ma administration’s decision-making process has not been transparent. The government continues to prevaricate on reports that it held secret talks with China. China appears to be offering an olive branch by giving Taiwan the green light to participate in the WHA meeting. However, the public does not know what conditions Taiwan had to accept and what price it will have to pay for all this.
The Ma administration decided not to submit an application to the WHA through the nation’s diplomatic allies or on its own. Instead, it pleaded with China — for peace and reached a clandestine agreement with Beijing on the WHA issue. Opposition legislators and independence activists see this as a underground deal made by the Ma administration at the expense of Taiwanese sovereignty.
However, if Taiwan does not insist on applying for WHO membership as a sovereign state, it will not be able to participate in any WHO-related meeting or event under its actual name. Even if the government were to attend the WHA meeting as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei,” it would not mean that Taiwan would be able to continue to participate in the meeting next year. Taiwan would still have to obtain approval from China before it could participate in the international health body.
China has employed the carrot-and-stick approach in dealing with Taiwanese affairs. On the one hand, Beijing gave “Chinese Taipei” some international space to perfunctorily meet the Taiwanese public’s demand for international participation.
On the other hand, Beijing continues to restrict Taiwan’s participation in most international events as part of its efforts to gradually undermine its international status and gain ultimate control. As soon as it becomes an accepted international norm that Chinese approval is a prerequisite for Taiwan’s participation in any global organization, every country will naturally view China as Taiwan’s suzerain, posing a serious challenge to Taiwan’s status as an independent, sovereign state.
The Ma administration’s secret talks with China on Taiwan’s participation in the WHA can be seen as an act of self-denigration. This is not simply a technical negotiation but one involving the nation’s sovereignty and security. Preserving this sovereignty is crucial to Taiwan’s survival. Active supervision of the government is imperative, and the public should demand that the Ma administration disclose the contents of its talks with China to make the decision-making process transparent. Only then will we be able to say that Taiwanese sovereignty and interests have not been sold out.
Chen Lung-chu is president of the Taiwan New Century Foundation.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG