The World Health Assembly held its annual meeting in Geneva this week. It was a major meeting of international health ministers, representing the member states of the WHO. Because of Chinese obstruction and bullying, Taiwan’s health minister was able to attend the meeting only as an “observer.”
In September 2010, a confidential internal memo became public, in which the WHO instructed its staff to refer to Taiwan as a “province of China.” Regrettably, in spite of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policy of accommodation with China, Taiwan is still being politically isolated and treated as a nonentity, or worse.
China is going to incredible lengths in its attempts to push Taiwan into a corner: In a nebulous UN subcommittee, it got the UN to refer to Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China,” so now the International Standards Organization in Geneva lists Taiwan as such, with the result that in drop-down menus in computers all over the world, Taiwan-born people who want to list Taiwan as their birthplace are suddenly confronted with the unpleasant dilemma of having to note “Province of China” as their birthplace.
Fortunately — when organizations like the California voter registration system or the Boston Athletic Association, which listed “Taiwan, Province of China” in their drop-down menu for the registration of voters — were notified of the erroneous designation, they rectified it right away.
Another silly designation, mainly used in the sports world, is Chinese Taipei. China only allows Taiwan to use this name when it enters international competitions, such as the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic series and the FIFA World Cup. Why can’t Taiwan be simply called “Taiwan” so we can start moving toward normal relations with other countries?
Since the early 1990s, when Taiwan made its momentous transition to democracy under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), it has been a free and democratic nation in which the government simply represents the people of the nation, not more but also not less.
Somehow, because of Taiwan’s complicated history, the US and other democratic countries still leave it dangling in diplomatic isolation. There are five countries that do not have official diplomatic relations with the US: Cuba, Bhutan, Iran, North Korea and Taiwan. Does Taiwan fit in that picture? Of course not. So it would be good if the US and western Europe were to adjust their policies to the new reality of a free and democratic Taiwan and move toward normalization of relations with Taiwan.
And it would be good to start this process by calling Taiwan by its own name, “Taiwan,” instead of twisting ourselves into artificial constructs that have no legal basis or practical relevance.
Taiwan is a highly developed nation that can contribute a lot to the international community. It is willing and able to be a full and equal member of the international community. Let us leave the fictions of the past and work toward a future in which Taiwan can play its role.
Serena Su is a graduate of Purdue University.