Sat, May 08, 2004 - Page 1 News List

US approves bill in favor of WHO bid

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

Health Minister Chen Chien-jen, right, speaks at a news conference with Foreign Minister Mark Chen in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Taiwan's strategy in seeking inclusion in the World Health Organ-ization as an observer has yet to be set in stone, but officials yesterday expressed optimism in light of the passage of a US Senate bill supporting Taiwan's bid.

"I am happy to be able to share good news with everyone -- the US Senate passed a bill in favor of Taiwan's bid for participation at the World Health Assembly [WHA]," Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) said yesterday.

The bill, which authorizes the Secretary of State to initiate a plan to endorse and obtain observer status for Taiwan at the upcoming annual WHA summit in Geneva, cleared the House of Representatives on April 21 and was passed by the Senate on May 6.

In light of the US support, Chen explained that officials were considering the possibility of asking diplomatic allies to call for a vote during the assembly's plenary session asking that Taiwan's bid be added to the World Health Assembly's agenda later this month.

In previous years, the General Committee has blocked placement of Taiwan's bid for observership on the World Health Assembly's agenda, preventing the application from reaching a vote.

Taiwan in 1997 asked diplomatic allies to call for a vote on adding Taiwan to the assembly's agenda. According to Chen, when the assembly voted on Taiwan's inclusion on the agenda, the vote had been 120 opposed, 19 in favor and 5 abstentions.

"We're still not 100 percent sure that we will ask our allies to call for a vote this year. We need to get a better grasp of the number of votes that will be in support of Taiwan before deciding," Chen said.

"Putting Taiwan's bid up for a vote by the Assembly will allow more nations to really consider the meaning behind Taiwan's participation," Department of Health Director General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said.

In addition, Chen Chien-jen also announced yesterday that this year's WHO bid would focus on four primary points: Taiwan's right to health should not be subject to political interference, Taiwan's public health experience can benefit other nations, Taiwan is willing to contribute resources to global health and humanitarian needs, and Taiwan is willing to participate in all WHO health initiatives.

However, Mark Chen said that this year's bid was different from last year's, due to explicit support from the US.

"This year is unique, because US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly said the US will support Taiwan's bid no matter the strategy implemented," Mark Chen said.

During testimony in a hearing on Taiwan, conducted by the House International Relations Committee, Kelly spoke in support of Taiwan's bid, saying that "Taiwan's problem obtaining observer status is certainly not due to a lack of US commitment."

Mark Chen also commented that Japan would take into consideration the US' lead in supporting Taiwan. Japan has already expressed that its support this year "will not be less than previous years."

If China decides to apply for Taiwan's participation as an associate member, this would be "politicizing" Taiwan's WHO bid, which is unacceptable, Mark Chen said.

Both Mark Chen and Chen Chien-jen yesterday warned that while the public should be hopeful, obtaining WHO observership this year would be a difficult task.

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