Sun, Mar 24, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Support for WHO role builds in US

HEALTH AND POLITICS Following the visit to Florida by the defense minister, Tang Yao-ming, Beijing is expected not to look kindly upon the vote in Congress that urges US support for Taiwan's bid for observer status at the world health body


The George W. Bush administration says it supports the vote of Congress to urge the US to push for Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization, rebuffing Chinese complaints that the action violates the one-China policy and is an interference in China's internal affairs.

The Senate on Tuesday night approved without objection or discussion a law that commits the State Department to devise and carry out a plan to secure Taiwan's observer status in May's annual meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The action came just hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the measure.

The bill, which is identical to one the House passed in December, now goes to Bush for his certain signature.

"The department supports the overall goal of Taiwan's participation in the work of the World Health Organization and has long worked closely with Taiwan authorities to advance that objective," State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said. "We have urged the World Health Organization and its members to find appropriate ways for Taiwan to participate. We will continue to do so."

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, asked by reporters, also supported the chamber's actions. "I don't believe it is a violation" of the one-China policy, he said.

He and Reeker were responding to a statement issued Thursday by the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress complaining about the Senate action and an earlier similar resolution passed by the European Parliament supporting Taiwan's observer status at the WHA.

The statement blamed the Senate and the EU with "trampling on the basic norms of the international law," and acting to "interfere in China's internal affairs and infringing China's sovereignty."

The dramatic improvement in US-China relations since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been strained in recent weeks over US policy toward Taiwan.

China has objected vigorously over a recent meeting in Florida between Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) and senior US officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and the congressional action on the WHA.

China has reportedly planned to cancel naval exchanges with the US planned for later this year in retaliation for the Florida meeting, but neither the Pentagon nor the Chinese Embassy in Washington could confirm that.

A Chinese naval convoy "will not visit the United States," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) said Thursday. The visit will proceed "according to their plan, which, however, does not include any port in the United States," she said.

US officials could not say whether any visits had been scheduled, or whether any had been cancelled.

"The determination of the United States to allow the visit of Tang Yao-ming has given rise to strong dissatisfaction amongst China's highest leadership," said Beijing's Global Times. China "is preparing to cancel plans by the Chinese navy to visit the US late this year," it said.

Meanwhile, neither US officials nor the Chinese embassy in Washington could confirm that the planned visit to the US by Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) this spring has been endangered by the growing Washington-Beijing rift.

"I have not heard that, no," said Reeker in response to a question.

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