The 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA) will take place from May 20 to 28 and Taiwan has not received an invitation from the WHO since 2017. As Taiwan is facing such huge suppression, many important figures — such as the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the British minister of state for Asia and the Pacific and the chairmen of Taiwan-friendly parliament groups in the UK, Germany, France and the EU — have spoken up for Taiwan’s attendance at the WHA, so it is clear to see that this issue has attracted global attention.
From 2009 to 2016, Taiwan was a WHA observer under the name “Chinese Taipei.” However, when China failed in its attempt to force the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration to accept the “one China” principle, it immediately turned to press the secretary of the WHO not to invite Taiwan. This situation is highly likely to be repeated and Taiwan might thus be excluded from the highest-level of the global health network once again.
When it comes to suppression by China, it usually brings up political issues first, such as the cross-strait framework under the [so-called] “1992 consensus,” to support its claim that without a cross-strait understanding and consensus, Taiwan should not be allowed to attend the WHA. Eventually, Beijing will conclude that it is China’s “domestic affairs” and that no other countries are entitled to step in. This means that China is keen to politicize the issue of Taiwan’s participation at the WHO and ignore the rights to health of Taiwanese and the soundness of the global health network.
Various cases such as blocking Taiwan from attending the WHO influenza vaccination meeting in March, the statement from the WHO spokesperson that specified Taiwan would not be invited to the WHA this year, and deliberately not informing Taiwan to attend the expert meeting of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) on African swine fever, show that China’s political levers on marginalization and internalization are seriously restricting Taiwan’s international space.
As China has been pressing hard by playing politics, Taiwan should position itself on a higher level to think about what it can contribute to global health through its participation.
According to recent reports and data from the WHO, current global health challenges are that half of the world’s population has no access to essential health services, millions of children are not able to get vaccinated, millions of pregnant women and newborns are dying during labor due to environments that are untidy and not disinfected.
Furthermore, the health threats posed by antimicrobial resistance, which are spreading and growing quickly; fatal communicable diseases — such as the Ebola virus — which have made a comeback; climate change, which is having a huge impact on people’s health in many countries; and the extreme inequality of global health are all issues that have been the target of intense discussions at the WHO, which has invested huge amounts of resources in the issues in the past few years.
Taiwan possesses expertise and experience to make contributions to the challenges that the WHO faces. For instance, Taiwan has an outstanding National Health Insurance system and controlled the SARS outbreak and African swine flu without international aid. Despite not being a member of the UN, Taiwan has not only performed well in terms of the world body’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it also possesses sufficient executive skill to provide assistance to other countries.
All of these are solid proof that Taiwan is responsible and capable to contribute to global health.
These skills and capabilities are precisely the resources that Taiwan can use to fight against China’s suppression. Although Taiwan is an island nation, it has enormous strengths, and even though China is one of the largest countries in the world, it has let epidemics spin out of control and even produces fake vaccines.
The WHO is an international organization, not China’s own health organization; Taiwan does not need to accept China’s political principles as a prerequisite to participating at the WHO.
As the old saying goes: “He who practices virtue will have alliances.” Therefore, rejecting the “1992 consensus” will not stop the US, the EU, Japan and Australia from supporting Taiwan’s participation at the WHO. Taiwan ought to stick to the medical expertise and humanitarian values in the WHO constitution. It will certainly be a tough journey, but it is the only way to kick-start Taiwan’s participation.
Lin Shih-chia is executive director of the Medical Professionals’ Alliance in Taiwan and a former legislator.
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