The US has launched a major campaign to help Taiwan win observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the supreme governing body of the WHO.
Taiwan has fought for observer status every year from 1997 to 2006, and again last year, but has never been able to overcome strong opposition from China. But sources in Washington said that a compromise is now being worked out with Beijing, and while it is still not certain, there is a good chance that observer status will be granted when the WHA meets for its 62nd session next month.
While details of the proposed compromise remain secret, the sources said it could involve China agreeing to observer status for Taiwan on an annual basis.
A report on the US position — prepared by the State Department for US Vice President Joseph Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — has been leaked to the Taipei Times.
“The United States will coordinate closely with like-minded nations so that we can effectively express our support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the work of the WHO,” the report says. “Our frequent public statements have facilitated positive developments in that regard and reflect our longstanding commitment to finding practical ways to advance Taiwan’s participation in the work of the WHO. The warming of cross-strait relations over the past year offers some encouragement that Taiwan’s bid for observer status may meet with less resistance in the coming years.”
WHO members voted 133 to 25 in 2004 against granting observer status to Taiwan. That year was the last time a vote on observer status was held and the US cast its ballot in favor.
The new report says: “The United States believes that the people of Taiwan should be able to contribute to, and benefit from, the work of the WHO.”
“The deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS] in 2003 and the ongoing concern over the potential for human transmission of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus highlight the need to involve Taiwan in a meaningful, pragmatic way in the work of the WHO,” it says. “The United States welcomes a potential decrease in the politicization and controversy surrounding Taiwan’s participation in the WHO in keeping with the improvement of cross-strait relations over the past year.”
Consistent with its “one China” policy, the US does not support membership for Taiwan in the UN or its specialized agencies, including the WHO, for which statehood is a requirement of membership.
“Throughout 2007 and 2008, the US held numerous strategy sessions with like-minded states and WHO Secretariat officials,” the report says. “Our goal has been to find ways to bring about Taiwan’s meaningful participation in appropriate activities of the WHO. On a number of occasions over the past several years, the US has reminded the PRC [People’s Republic of Chins] of the foundations of our ‘one China’ policy and has made clear that we would be concerned if political or nomenclature issues prevented meaningful participation by Taiwan’s experts in bodies such as the WHO, where Taiwan has knowledge to contribute and where its exclusion could lead to gaps in public health coverage.”
The report reveals that “throughout 2008 and in early 2009, the US continued to express support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the WHO.”
“The US made a number of representations to foreign governments supporting observer status for Taiwan,” it says. “At the urging of the US and other like-minded states, the Secretariat is working to involve Taiwan’s experts in a number of technical-level meetings.”