Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 1 News List

`Taiwan' bids for WHO membership

WHAT'S IN A NAME? The nation is trying to join the body for the 11th time, and though the chances of success are virtually nil, the government wants to reframe the debate

By Ko Shu-ling and Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

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 (邱義仁) said that the government would adopt a three-pronged approach this year in its 11th bid to join the WHO. In the past, opposition from China has assured that the bid was destined for failure.

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 (陳馮富珍).

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 (黃志芳) said that Taiwan's bid to join the WHO aims to highlight the country's sovereignty.

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.

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