Taiwan has received a letter from the WHO inviting it to attend as an observer at this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting next month under the name “Chinese Taipei,” Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) said yesterday.
“I wish to invite the Department of Health, Chinese Taipei, to attend the 62nd World Health Assembly as an observer. The Assembly will be convened at 10:00 on Monday, 18 May, 2009, in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland,” the letter from WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) to Yeh reads. “I would appreciate if you could confirm the attendance of the Department of Health, Chinese Taipei, and the names of the attendees at your earliest convenience.”
Taiwan’s presence at this annual meeting of the decision-making arm of the WHO would mark the first time the country has been allowed to participate in a meeting or activity of a specialized UN agency since losing its UN membership to China in 1971. Taiwan launched a campaign to participate in the WHO in 1997, but to no avail amid opposition from China.
After consulting President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Yeh accepted the invitation yesterday after receiving it by fax at 9pm on Tuesday.
“The [original] letter is still on its way,” Yeh told a press conference at the Government Information Office.
The minister said the public should note key words in the letter, such as the reference to “Chinese Taipei” and the recipient being referred to as a “minister.”
Yeh said the acceptance of Taiwan under the name “Chinese Taipei” was a “breakthrough.”
Participating in the WHA meeting as an observer means Taiwan would have no voting rights in the assembly or at the WHO. Observers are granted speaking rights at the WHA meeting, but can only attend the meetings and committee sessions held during the annual two-week assembly.
Yeh said that WHA observer status would ensure Taiwan has direct contact with the WHO in exchanging information to protect public safety and would enable Taiwan to share its expertise in public sanitation and disease prevention with other countries.
Yeh said Taiwan’s representative office in Geneva would liaise with the WHO secretariat to iron out the details of Taiwan’s participation in the WHA meeting, including Taiwanese reporters’ coverage of the event. In past years, the UN Office in Geneva rejected applications from Taiwanese journalists for press credentials to cover WHA meetings because Taiwan is not a member of the WHO.
The officials at yesterday’s press conference declined to say what had transpired between Chinese and Taiwanese negotiators that led to Taiwan being granted WHA observer status.
“Health officials on both sides exchanges ideas on the matter technically, but we will not reveal the process ... in conformance with international practices,” Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrew Hsia (夏立言) said.
Taiwan would enjoy the same rights as the six other observers scheduled to attend the WHA meeting, he said.
At a separate setting yesterday, Ma attributed the breakthrough to his cross-strait policy and Beijing’s goodwill.
Ma said three factors had contributed to the invitation: the joint efforts of the public and all political parties; the support of the international community, including Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and non-allied countries; and the goodwill of the “mainland authorities.”