Fearing a humiliating lack of international support, Taiwanese authorities in May urged the US not to push for a vote on Taiwan's observer status in the World Health Assembly in Geneva, a State Department report obtained by the Taipei Times has revealed.
The report, required under a law passed unanimously by Congress and signed by US President George W. Bush on May 29, said the US delegation acceded to the request because "Taiwan clearly did not have sufficient support to win a vote or to lose by a respectable margin."
"Taiwan proposed, and we agreed, that we would carefully track support for Taiwan's bid and only support the holding of a vote if it would demonstrate a significantly increased level of support," the State Department report to Congress said.
The report appears to contradict repeated statements by Taiwanese officials that Taiwan wanted a vote and was pushing the US and other allies to advance such a vote. Taiwan has been seeking observer status since 1997, but no vote has been held since then, when, the State Department report points out, "Taiwan suffered an overwhelming defeat."
Last year, according to pro-Taiwan sources in Washington, the US urged Taiwan not to press for the vote in the 2002 WHA meeting, because the US feared a disastrous defeat. The latest State Department report, therefore, seems to represent a 180-degree shift in the strategies of both Washington and Taipei.
"It is clear that Taiwan has gained some support and sympathy for its cause, but it is still far short of having sufficient support," the State Department concludes.
The report says joint strategy planning between the US and Taiwan began in late April, the third year that the two sides had coordinated their efforts to advance Taiwan's bid for observer status. Washington, the report says, "firmly believes Taiwan should take the lead in building support" for its cause. Nevertheless, the report cites a number of actions the US took, including statements on the WHA floor and a letter to WHO director-general Dr. Gro Brundland.
The WHO legislation urged the State Department to devise a strategy to obtain Taiwan's participation as an observer at the WHA assembly, which took place between May 19 and May 28. While Bush's signature came only after the meeting was held, the law became a symbolic document of support for Taiwan's cause.
Even so, Bush indicated that the required State Department report itself would be limited in what it disclosed. In signing the law, he said the report would "withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations ... national security," or executive prerogatives.
As a result, the report contains virtually nothing about Washington's efforts to lobby other nations on behalf of Taiwan, or any interaction it might have had with China.
Despite the lack of a vote, the State Department said Washington is still committed to a "long-term strategy, as we continue to believe that observership would not be attainable in the near term."
The SARS epidemic did, however, have a positive impact on Taiwan's efforts to gain participation in the work of the WHO, the report said. On May 27, the WHA passed a resolution requesting the director general to "respond appropriately to all requests for WHO support" in dealing with SARS, which, the department said, "commits the WHO to respond to all requests for assistance, including those from Taiwan."