Thu, Apr 19, 2018 - Page 13 News List

How China excludes Taiwan from the WHO

As Taiwan waits for an invitation to the health body’s yearly assembly, one expert is ‘not very optimistic’ it will come

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter

A pro-Taiwan protester last year holds a flag during a demonstration outside of the UN offices on the opening day of the WHA, the WHO’s annual meeting, on May 22 in Geneva. Despite impassioned pleas from several countries, the World Health Organization’s annual assembly refused to even discuss admitting Taiwan to the meeting, in a move hailed by China.

PHOTO: AFP

For Alexander Swan, a physician who has practiced medicine for three decades, politics should have no place in ensuring access to good healthcare.

He’s reminded of that belief every time he returns to his native Myanmar, a country whose healthcare disparities Swan has tried to help alleviate through his own private outreach work.

That’s why when Swan looks at Taiwan — which, according to the government, has invested over US$6 billion in international medical and humanitarian aid efforts since 1996 in more than 80 countries — he can’t help but wonder how keeping it out of the WHO benefits anyone.

“[If] we exclude one country all the time, we lose an opportunity to help each other,” Swan said.

Swan shared his views ahead of Support Taiwan’s Participation in the WHO (推動台灣參與WHO), a symposium that will take place on Saturday in New York City, where he will participate on a panel that’s expected to discuss how and why Taiwan should be included in the WHO and UN.

The event, organized in part by the Culture Center of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (僑務委員會) in New York, comes as Taiwan awaits word on whether it’ll receive an invitation to this year’s 71st WHA, held between May 21 and May 26 in Geneva, Switzerland.

After getting invitations to attend the annual meetings as an observer for eight consecutive years, Taiwan was not invited last year.

That snub has been seen as a reflection of Beijing’s efforts to limit Taiwan’s international space since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), took office the year before.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonprofit policy research organization, said she’s not very optimistic about Taiwan receiving an invitation to this year’s World Health Assembly.

“There’s no reason, in my view, to exclude Taiwan from anything that’s related to the WHO, and certainly not the annual WHA meeting,” Glaser said. “The only reason they’re not there is because of Beijing.”

The Tsai administration’s refusal to accept the so-called “1992 consensus” has blocked Taiwan from participating in the assembly.

The term, which former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) admitted making up in 2000, refers to a supposed understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese government that both sides acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.

“One of the lessons I think that Beijing drew that year (2016) was that they were going to make sure that the next year — unless Tsai Ing-wen stepped up and accepted ‘one China’ — that they were not going to allow Taiwan to participate,” Glaser said. “I think that’s where we’ve been ever since.”

Taiwan’s last invitation to the WHA came in 2016. It differed from previous ones in that it mentioned the “one China” principle — China’s view that it has sovereignty over the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

It also cited a UN resolution passed on Oct. 25, 1971, that recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate representative of China to the UN.

The WHO is a specialized health agency of the UN.

Senior health officials from 194 members states meet annually at the assembly, which includes committees to debate technical and health matters, as well as financial and management issues. Delegates also gather several times in plenary sessions to listen to reports and adopt resolutions.

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