With the 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly having opened several weeks ago, it is a good time to revisit Taiwan’s campaign to join the annual WHO meeting in Geneva, Switzerland — the World Health Assembly (WHA) — as an observer.
Getting Taiwan back into the WHA is a tough call. China blocks Taiwan from attending the meeting and plays politics with the lives of the 23 million Taiwanese.
Who can forget the Chinese pressure that blocked direct WHO assistance from reaching Taiwan during the 2003 SARS crisis? China’s behavior is utterly contemptible.
The WHO has effectively taken its hands off of Taiwan’s ambitions to join the body. It has decided to let Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China work it out among themselves.
China’s diplomatic obstructionism continues to prevent Taiwan from gaining WHO membership. Where does the nation go from here?
In March, I wrote in the Taipei Times that “It behooves the US to tell Beijing that if it does not let Taiwan attend the WHA meeting, Washington will send the US secretary of Health and Human Services to Taiwan to experience firsthand how Taiwan is battling its perennial challenge of avian flu outbreaks” (“US must aid Taiwan’s WHO entry,” Mar. 3, page 8).
Based on information and knowledge of insiders, the US is committed to seeing Taiwan being represented in the WHO — and it has been for the better part of the past two decades.
The Formosan Association for Public Affairs has been promoting Taiwan’s bid for WHO membership since the late 1990s. The campaign culminated in binding legislation passing both the US House of Representatives and US Senate in 2004 authorizing the US secretary of state to initiate a plan to endorse and obtain observer status for Taiwan at the annual week-long summit of the WHO, and instruct the US delegation to Geneva to implement such a plan.
The Taiwanese government has to tackle the issue of regaining WHA observer status at the highest level. How?
The association has said for more than a decade that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to create a “coalition of the willing” — a group of nations willing to stand up against China. Taiwan has to start organizing such a coalition and not wait for the US to do it.
The ministry needs to instruct each Taiwanese representative in the 34 nations that make up the WHO executive board to tell their counterparts in their host countries that Taiwan is building a coalition of nations to support its bid for an observer status at the WHA.
When the executive board meeting takes place next month, Taiwan’s diplomatic allies Swaziland and/or the Dominican Republic, both of which are on the board, unlike China, could introduce a resolution calling for Taiwan’s observer status in the WHA.
If Taiwan’s representatives have been effective and have been able to convince their counterparts to support Taiwan’s bid for an observer status in the WHA, then Taiwan would have passed the first hurdle to regaining observer status in the assembly.
After the board meeting, China will get involved and that will open up a whole new can of worms.
Peter Chen is president of the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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