President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has sent a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) requesting to join the international body as a full member under the name "Taiwan," officials said yesterday.
Presidential Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (
In addition to applying for World Health Assembly (WHA) observer status and continuing a "meaningful participation" campaign that could allow Taiwan to participate in WHO-related activities, Chiou said that Chen sent a letter on Wednesday on behalf of the Taiwanese people to Hong Kong-born WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (
In the letter, Chen told her that the country would like to become a member of the health agency under the name "Taiwan." Taiwan has previously applied to become an observer at the WHA as a "health entity" -- a term used to skirt the sensitive issue of sovereignty, thereby trying to defuse China's opposition to Taiwan's participation.
Chiou said the change of strategy is based on three considerations.
First, he said, polls showed that 94.9 percent of Taiwanese support the WHO bid and think the country should join the body using the name "Taiwan."
Second, more than half of all legislators have filed a motion asking the government to continue pushing the WHO bid, he said.
Finally, Chiou said, it is necessary for the country to try a new approach to join the WHO after years of frustration caused by China's opposition.
Chiou said the three approaches were equally difficult, but that one more option meant one more opportunity.
When asked whether Japan and the US had been made aware of the new strategy in advance, Chiou said that the US government had been informed, but that Taiwan had not yet received any response from either country.
"We will continue to communicate and negotiate with them," he said. "The formal decision of the US government is to support our bid as a WHA observer, but I believe they must reassess the impact the new approach will have on the US."
Taiwan began trying to gain observer status in 1997, following the US government's recommendation.
Chiou said that the worst-case scenario would be that the secretary-general's office ignores Chen's letter. If that happens, Chiou said the government would exert pressure on the WHO through diplomatic allies and "other forces."
Foreign Minister James Huang (
Huang made the remarks after he presided over a swearing-in ceremony of new directors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday afternoon.
"I believe that the people of Taiwan are frustrated and unsatisfied with this kind of result," Huang said.
"Therefore, taking a new entry strategy, which is to apply for full membership under the name of `Taiwan' is another approach that Taiwan can make," Huang said.
"Obtaining full membership in the WHO is the best way of protecting the interests of Taiwanese and it would also accentuate Taiwan's sovereignty," he said.
Huang added that Taiwan has made numerous efforts to join the WHO as an observer but has faced continual rejection because of China.
Moreover, Huang said, China and the WHO signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005 that indicated Taiwan has to use the name "Taiwan, China" to participate in the technical meetings held by the organization, and that only Beijing can consent to Taiwan attending these meetings.
"It has downgraded Taiwan to a part of China. It is meaningless for Taiwan to continue to call for participation in that respect," Huang said.
"We expect the WHO to deal with Taiwan's application fairly, and we also urge people not to over-interpret and politicize the name issue," he said.
Meanwhile, People First Party Legislator Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) yesterday criticized the government for the move.
"It is beneath our dignity to drop the nation's official name, `Republic of China,' and use the name `Taiwan' instead. It will complicate matters," Chang said.
The president's purpose is to create an issue that favors the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) election campaign, not to fight for the country's interests, he claimed.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Kuo Lin-yung (
"The DPP government finally realized that using the name `Taiwan' is what it ought to do, and that it is the only way to make Taiwan become a normal country," he said, calling on the DPP government to come up with a plan to rejoin the UN under the name of Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan
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