The annual meeting of the WHO’s executive board convened on Jan. 22. The government did not end up pushing Taiwan’s allies to submit a proposal recommending that the WHO’s director-general invite the nation to participate in this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA).
The government failed to seize an opportunity to fight for Taiwan’s right to participate in the international community.
Nevertheless, the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan (FMPAT) would like to express its gratitude to board representatives from the US, Swaziland, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti and Japan for speaking up in support of Taiwan’s participation in the WHO.
As Taiwan’s participation is a matter of life and death, the foundation is calling on the government to consider it as a national security issue and do its best to promote the nation’s inclusion.
Prior to the board’s annual meeting, FMPAT offered recommendations to the government through various communication channels.
On Jan. 18, it even held a news conference with legislators from both the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee and the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, repeatedly asking the government to pressure allies to step up in defense of Taiwanese people’s right to health.
Their submitting a proposal to the board would increase Taiwan’s visibility, giving the nation’s request to participate in international organizations a boost of positive momentum.
Although the government chose not to request support from its allies, it is much appreciated that those allies have emphasized, along with other like-minded countries, that exclusion of Taiwan from the global health network could affect public health preparedness and responses. There is the risk of a pandemic stemming from such an exclusion — something the WHO must deal with.
Although the nation participated in the WHA as an observer from 2009 to 2016, China blocked Taiwan from attending last year.
However, the nation should continue its efforts to have a proposal submitted because there has been unprecedented support from its allies since last year. Otherwise, it is likely that Taiwan’s request to participate could sink from public view.
The executive board commands the spotlight in the field of global health. Its annual meeting is even going to be streamed live across the globe. Therefore, Taiwan should take action instead of adopting a wait-and-see attitude. The annual meeting is the platform for letting the world know which country has put the lives of Taiwan’s 23 million people and their right to health at stake because of a political power struggle.
With additional challenges lying ahead this year, if our government waits until the WHA session to request a two-on-two debate — the strategy used last year — the discussion of Taiwan’s participation is likely to become a mere formality. Taiwanese might even suspect it to have been a diplomatic fraud perpetuated by their government.
Last year, the Ukrainian delegation lodged a stern protest against the Russian Federation being named assembly president. During the session, Ethiopian civic organizations declared their dissatisfaction with newly elected WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Clearly, everyone has the right to voice an opinion in the WHO. Requesting that people compromise on their demands so as not to disrupt harmony and order should not be allowed.
Advocating the nation’s allies to submit a proposal to the executive board is about choosing value rather than being concerned over failure.
Hence, the foundation is calling on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to give up on an opportunity that could both enhance the nation’s global visibility and boost support for its inclusion in the international community.
Even if the proposal is to be rejected in the end, submission of the proposal, the debate and the vote are all manifestations of Taiwan’s international participation, and can serve as stepping stones for swinging public opinion in the nation’s favor.
Lin Shih-chia is executive director of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan and a former legislator.
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