A confidential WHO memo reminding its agencies that Taiwan is a “Province of China” has come to light and thrown a spanner in the works for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has taken great pride in the nation’s renewed interaction with the UN organization. His administration is now hurriedly spinning the situation, with the Cabinet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Health “clarifying” the situation and saying they will file a protest with the WHO. However, protesting now about an internal document that was sent out by the office of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) on Sept. 14 last year is too little, too late.
When Taiwan exited the UN in 1971, it lost its WHO membership. During the SARS epidemic in 2003, which seriously affected the nation, exclusion from the international disease prevention system led to persistent domestic demands for renewed membership in the WHO.
In 2009, Chan’s office sent a letter to the Department of Health, addressing its head as “minister,” and informing the department that the nation would be party to the International Health Regulations (IHR). Taiwan was also invited to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer.
At the time, the WHO acceded to China’s request that all data and information intended for Taiwan should first pass through China. This odd arrangement, which is unique among all other member states and observers, raised questions about whether China and the WHO had struck a deal under the table. At the time, a memorandum of understanding between China and the WHO caused heated debate, but no evidence of a secret arrangement was ever found.
However, the secret internal WHO memo obtained by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲), in which Chan stated that the WHO’s implementation of the IHR must comply with WHA resolution 25.1, which defines Taiwan as a “Province of China,” offers proof that a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the WHO and China seemingly granted China suzerainty over Taiwan.
After the internal memo was revealed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that it had received the document before the media had, but had not taken any action. The government’s inaction should be decried as incompetence, pure and simple, and its decision to cover up the incident was negligence of duty. Nothing happened until a legislator and the media revealed the truth about the government’s complicit participation: It was happy to let the WHO refer to Taiwan as a province of China, so long as the Taiwanese public knew nothing about it.
The Ma administration has always believed that as long as it managed to improve cross-strait relations, Taiwan would be able to participate in more international organizations. It also believed that insisting on the so-called “1992 consensus” would facilitate improved cross-strait relations, regardless of the fact that China and the world see the “consensus” as another word for the “one China” principle.
The confidential WHO memo has revealed Ma and his administration are deceiving both themselves and the public, while the rest of world views the Taiwanese representative not as an independent national observer, but rather a representative of a Chinese province.
Whether Taiwan is ruled by a DPP or a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration, participation in international organizations will be difficult. The Ma administration’s only concern is the superficial scoring of political points — it doesn’t care about practical results. This not only hurts Taiwanese sovereignty, but is also eroding public trust in the government.