On Monday last week, there was an interesting debate on interactions between Taiwan and the WHO in the pages of the Liberty Times (the sister publication of the Taipei Times) and on CNA News, between a Taiwanese health professional and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In his article, Peter Chang (張武修), a former advisor on international affairs to the Ministry of Health and former health attache in Geneva and Brussels, underlined the lack of action on the part of Taiwan’s government in protesting the WHO’s use of the name “Taiwan, province of China” as outlined in an internal document.
He also complained about the government’s ineffectiveness in securing opportunities for Taiwan’s medical community to participate in WHO events and technical meetings.
In response to these accusations, the ministry published a short article detailing its protests against the degradation of Taiwan’s sovereignty and the WHO events in which Taiwanese delegates have participated.
What was of particular interest in this exchange between a health professional and diplomat and government officials was the needs and concerns that it revealed.
The debate shed light on the urgent need for more information and transparency about the space offered to Taiwan by the WHO since it became a World Health Assembly (WHA) observer in May 2009. The question about the real level of participation by Taiwan in WHO events and meetings and concerns that such observership is just a seven-day ticket to the WHA are legitimate areas of public interest.
This should alert the government to the fact that it needs to share more information about Taiwan’s participation in WHO events and to detail what, if anything, concrete has been achieved by such participation.
Beyond the quantitative aspect of participation, there is also a qualitative element. This reaction also reveals the need for a better understanding of the benefits that the participation of Taiwanese delegates at WHO meetings provides in terms of helping to improve Taiwanese and global health. Have Taiwan’s delegates to these meetings proposed initiatives, exchanged ideas openly and tried to influence the debates?
If that is the case, then the government should be sharing this information with its citizens as well as the international community. It might be impossible to talk about work in progress for the next WHO meeting, but once Taiwan has participated in a WHO event, information should be shared.
This approach would help to avoid skepticism about Taiwan’s participation in the organization’s events.
In addition, the exchange also highlighted concerns about Taiwan’s sovereignty and once again a need for more transparency about the government’s efforts to protect it when working with the WHO or participating in its events. Progress on this issue, which is central in Taiwan’s politics, should be shared with Taiwanese on a frequent basis.
Moreover, the role of the memorandum of understanding signed between China and the WHO in 2005, which gave Beijing the right to control interactions between Taiwan and the international organization and thereby downgraded Taiwan’s sovereignty, need to be publicly clarified.
Once again, if efforts have been made to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty while participating in WHO meetings, Taiwan should be proud of that and not be shy about sharing it. This would undoubtedly reduce criticism of the government and ultimately facilitate even greater support from civil society.