Department of Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) defended himself yesterday against accusations he was selling out Taiwan after being heckled at a dinner in Geneva, where he is attending the World Health Assembly (WHA).
Yeh was confronted on Sunday evening by two Taiwanese students as he arrived at a dinner for Taiwan’s diplomatic allies. The women asked him what title he was using at the WHO meeting and accused him of “selling out Taiwan.”
Yeh argued with the women before they were escorted away. However, as he left the dinner several other Taiwanese students shouted “Yeh Ching-chuan, you can’t sell out Taiwan” and held up placards reading “Taiwan’s health does concern China.” TV footage showed Swiss police arresting one woman.
“I really don’t know what these people want,” a tearful Yeh said later at a press conference.
Taiwan waited 38 years to attend the WHA and people should cherish the moment, Yeh said.
The WHA was an opportunity to step onto the international stage, he said, adding this was an opportunity that was hard-earned so he would make the best out of it.
“I respect [opposing] voices 100 percent, but they should do so in a mutually respectful manner. Barging into a private party was embarrassing for Taiwan and showed a lack of love for Taiwan,” Yeh said.
“I am mostly upset because I feel the comment insulted the 23 million people of Taiwan, not me, because I’m attending the WHA with the consent of most Taiwanese,” Yeh said.
Citing his efforts to combat SARS, Yeh said he had protected the nation with his life, adding: “If I am not patriotic, who is?”
“I don’t know what responsibility I have to shoulder, so why should I step down? I’m here to protect the lives of Taiwanese people,” he said when asked about calls from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators for him to resign.
The government did not want to attend the WHA under the name “Chinese Taipei,” because the name of the country was “Republic of China, Taiwan,” Yeh said, adding “This is the political reality.”
“A second thing I want to emphasize is, the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding [the MOU signed by China and the WHO stating that if Taiwan were to be invited, the invitation needed to go through Beijing] was signed during the time that the useless former Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] was in power,” Yeh said.
“We are not here today to cause problems, we are here to resolve them,” he said.
Yeh denied local media reports that he had refused to talk about the issue of nationality.
“The focus of the WHA meeting was the global H1N1 epidemic, so it was inappropriate for me to raise the issue of nationality or the name of our country … However, at appropriate times and places I will voice our dissatisfaction with the 2005 MOU,” he said.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) expressed regret yesterday over the heckling, urging the public to voice their differences at home rather than at international events.
Wang said Yeh had made a major contribution to public health and he could empathize with Yeh’s frustration. Wang said he understood there were different opinions, but at an international occasion like the WHA, the public should come together and strive for the best interests of Taiwan.
Meanwhile, several Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators voiced support for Yeh.
“We should stop political wrangling ... everyone should be more understanding, instead of focusing on [the nation’s] title or we will be a laughingstock,” KMT caucus deputy secretary-general Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔) told a press conference.
KMT Legislator Hsu Shao-ping (徐少萍) said the two students should not have protested against Taiwan’s observer status at the WHA if they loved Taiwan.
KMT Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) said the students only made fools of themselves.
DPP Legislator William Lai (賴清德) said Yeh’s title on his WHA attendance card was “Dr Yeh,” not “Minister Yeh,” and the WHO Web site referred to Taiwan as “China (Province of Taiwan)” but Yeh had “shamelessly” blamed the former DPP government for the situation.
The DPP government and the party never accepted the 2005 MOU and it was President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) who accepted it, so it was shameless for Yeh to blame the DPP, Lai said.
Meanwhile, Yeh yesterday took his seat at the annual meeting.
“I feel really good, really terrific,” Yeh said.
Yeh is the first Taiwanese health minister to be admitted to an event hosted by a UN agency since the Republic of China lost its UN membership in 1971.
“Thirty-eight years is a long wait and I feel honored to be able to represent Taiwan in the World Health Assembly,” Yeh said.
This year’s WHA opened yesterday for a five-day program with swine flu and the possibility of a vaccine topping the agenda.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KO SHU-LING, FLORA WANG, RICH CHANG and CNA
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