Sat, Mar 16, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Europeans back WHA observer bid

POLITICS Officials hailed a non-binding resolution by the European Parliament that supports Taiwan's bid to gain observer status at the World Health Assembly

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan yesterday welcomed a non-binding resolution passed by the European Parliament supporting Taiwan's bid to obtain observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva.

The meeting of the WHA, the highest decision-making body of the WHO, is slated for May 14 to May 22.

"This is a very important cornerstone," Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) said of the passage of the resolution. "Although the resolution is non-binding, it however represents the strong public opinion endorsing our bid."

Chien said he hopes the resolution, passed by the Strasbourg-based 626-member assembly on Thursday, would help smooth Taiwan's related lobbies in individual EU member states.

It was the first time for the European Parliament, one of the three major pillars of the EU, to pass a resolution specifically endorsing Taiwan's bid to obtain an observer status in the WHO.

The resolution also calls on the European Commission, the executive body of the EU and EU member states to support that the application for observer status be granted to Taiwan at the upcoming assembly.

An involved foreign ministry official said: "It represented at least a small step in garnering the Europeans' support. But what's more important is to get the US' firm backing."

Some have admitted, however, that Taiwan's needs seem to have taken a back seat to the US war against terrorism.

Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), the leader of a Taiwan delegation to Washington early last month, said the US State Department was not "very forceful" on garnering sound support for Taiwan's WHO bid.

James Kelly, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, told Congress last month that the US has made "some progress" and would consult with WHO member nations in the run-up to the approaching assembly before forging a strategy to secure a role for Taiwan in the WHO.

Taiwan lost its WHO membership in 1972. Taiwan launched an international campaign to rejoin the WHO in 1997, but the effort has been thwarted six times in a row due to pressure from China.

During the main WHO executive board meeting in January, Guatemala, Chad and Grenada -- three of Taiwan's 28 diplomatic allies and members of the 32-member WHO Executive Board -- submitted the motion on behalf of Taipei to put Taiwan's observer status on the provisional agenda for the WHA in May.

But the board meeting killed the motion after 20 members voted in favor of not discussing the issue, three voted against, eight abstained and one was absent from the meeting, sources said.

The voting took place in the wake of Cuba's suggestion that the motion on Taiwan's participation be removed from a provisional agenda of the WHA meeting.

This is the first time Taiwan's allies have raised the issue at the last WHO executive board meeting before the WHA in May. For the past five years, they submitted extraordinary motions shortly before the WHA opened.

The slight change in tactic was aimed at gaining international attention to the issue, officials said.

Taiwan has vowed to continue its WHO bid, and has begun related lobbies in various capitals, Chien said.

The administration of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has put the country's WHO bid high on its agenda, with a cross-ministerial task force handling the issue.

The Cabinet recently replaced director-general of the Department of Health Lee Ming-liang (李明亮) with Chien to act as the convener of the task force, government sources said.

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