It was very upsetting to hear President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) shameless comments about the World Health Assembly (WHA) during the recent presidential debate on TV.
In May, before the WHA meeting, legislators released internal WHO documents about Taiwan having to be listed as a province of China when it takes part in WHA events as an observer.
Following the release of this information, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it did not know about this crucial decision that was so detrimental to Taiwan’s presence in the international community.
Then, Ma and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) held a top meeting of the National Security Council in which they both solemnly promised that a protest would be filed by government officials with the WHO in Geneva.
Before the Geneva trip, a press conference was held in which everyone was filled with righteous indignation, but then when the officials got to the WHO headquarters, they kept quiet. It was all just playing to the gallery.
Not long after this, several members of the EU parliament and the US Congress, as well as US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, became fed up with the stalling, so they asked the WHO on Taiwan’s behalf.
In September, they received a reply confirming that what Ma had proclaimed to be “observer” status was tantamount to national humiliation and the abandonment of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Now, half a year has gone by and the Ma government has done nothing at all to right this wrong for the nation.
To allow Taiwan to participate in the WHO, starting in 1997, former Academia Sinica member Lee Chen-yuan (李鎮源) led Taiwan’s medical sector in investing time and money every year on visits to countries around the world to lobby for Taiwanese WHO membership. These actions gradually helped win the support of international bodies such as the World Medical Association.
After more than a decade, they had pushed Taiwan’s participation in the WHO to the point where it became part of an international consensus and large countries, such as the US, Japan and the EU, started to show their support.
The purpose of this was to bring about an opportunity for practical participation in the WHO both for the sake of Taiwan’s medical sector and for all Taiwanese.
Since Ma came into office in 2008, he has held private talks with the Chinese government and worked with Beijing to get Taiwan “the chance” to take part in the annual five-day WHA meeting in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Taiwanese.
However, internationally, the Ma government has given tacit agreement to and accepted China’s proclamations of sovereignty over Taiwan and has gone along with China and the WHA memorandum of understanding, doing everything it has been asked to do.
In the beginning, the Ma government said it would continue to try its best to participate in technical meetings at the WHO, but when I recently got in touch with friends who are also senior WHO officials, I was shocked and angered to learn that, for the past three years, Taiwan has not tried to participate in any WHO events, nor had they seen or heard of any requests from Taiwan to be allowed to it participate in technical meetings at the organization.
In the past, there was a lot of hard work done to get large countries to lobby for Taiwan’s participation in regional meetings of the WHO or sit in on the meetings of the organization’s Executive Board, but in recent years, it has not received any official letters or requests for Taiwan’s participation.
Quite simply, the WHO does not know what Taiwan wants and seems to think Taiwan will be satisfied with taking part in one five-day conference each year.
In his efforts to please China, Ma has sacrificed Taiwanese’s basic human right to medical care and Taiwan’s right to participate in the international community.
He has also ruined the excellent quality of Taiwan’s medical community and its international reputation.
The way Ma and Beijing have joined hands to destroy all the hard-earned ground made by Taiwan’s medical community in gaining participation in international and medical health affairs is deeply upsetting.
Peter Chang is a doctor and formerly served as a representative for the Department of Health.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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