When the World Health Assembly (WHA) sent an invitation to Taiwan to join this year’s meeting in Geneva, it stipulated one condition: that attendance be in line with the “one China” principle. This, for a mere five days of meetings.
In April 2005, then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰), without the approval of then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), went to China to meet then-general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to formulate the Lien-Hu communique and discuss issues such as Taiwan’s participation in the WHA. The upshot of these talks was that Taiwan would be able to participate as long as it adhered to the so-called “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle, and participated under the name “Taiwan, province of China.”
One month later China signed a memorandum of understating (MOU) with the WHO.
In May 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, and the Lien-Hu communique was immediately implemented. In May 2009, Taiwan implicitly acknowledged and accepted the MOU, in order to attend the five-day WHA meeting under the name “Taiwan, province of China.” Thus, the sovereignty and rights of the entire nation — in a process decided upon in private negotiations between the KMT and the CCP, and not approved by the general public — were further swallowed up by Beijing.
The Lien-Hu communique gave us what Ma now calls the “WHA model”; it is the outcome of a major loss of sovereignty brought about by negotiations carried out behind closed doors. This is what Ma terms flexible diplomacy — a process from Lien to Ma that has seen Taiwanese resorting to bowing their heads and kowtowing, actions that give little or no thought to the nation’s dignity, and for what? Five days’ participation in an international conference. Are we really to bear the repercussions of the actions of these two individuals?
How many UN member states can compete with Taiwan in the fields of medical research, science and technology, medical education and healthcare? The WHO is trying to accommodate China in all things, but when it comes to medical standards, doctors produced by China’s education system are not always seen as being of the highest caliber: In fact, many are seen as quacks. China likes to think of itself as a major power, but to hold the health rights of Taiwanese hostage to politics in this way would be seen by people from civilized nations as shameful.
Let us look at this from another perspective. The WHO learned much from Taiwan’s experience of dealing with the SARS crisis in 2003. The Centers for Disease Control in the US and Taiwan have worked together on sharing medical information for many years. There has also been substantial cooperation on environmental health between the US, the EU, Taiwan and Japan for a long time. All of this makes one wonder whether Taiwan needs the WHO, or whether it is the WHO that needs Taiwan.
What Taiwanese need is respectful participation. Taiwan’s healthcare achievements can make a considerable contribution to the UN, to the world and to humankind. For many years now it has sent countless outstanding healthcare professionals to third world nations, including Africa, to help out poor nations and to make the world a better place.
What the WHO needs is Taiwan; what it does not need is to do Beijing’s bidding and exert pressure on Taiwan. If we will not be treated with respect when we go, why go at all?
Winston Dang is a former head of the Environmental Protection Administration and chair professor at the Taipei Medical University.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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