Senior WHO officials sent out an internal memo on Sept. 14 last year asking WHO agencies to be kept aware that Taiwan is a “Province of China,” pursuant to an arrangement with Beijing.
The confidential memo, released by a lawmaker yesterday and published by the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) the same day, says that procedures used by the WHO to facilitate relations with Taiwan and how these relations operate were subject to Chinese — and not Taiwanese — approval.
The authenticity of the document has been confirmed with the WHO, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Centered on the implementation of the International Health -Regulations (IHR) — a set of global public health rules under the WHO, which Taiwan joined in 2009 — the memo specifically says that the correct terminology for Taiwan is “the Taiwan Province of China.”
Taking into account the representation of China in the WHO, health agencies should refrain “from actions which could constitute or be interpreted as recognition of a separate status of Taiwanese authorities and institutions from China,” it said.
In one sign that Taiwan’s participation in the IHR was contingent on Chinese approval, the memo makes particular mention to an arrangement communicated by the WHO Permanent Mission of China to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍).
That arrangement “allows certain interactions and communications between the WHO Secretariat and technical health authorities in Taipei” regarding the IHR, the memo said.
Having exited the UN, the WHO’s parent body, in 1971, the Republic of China later made 12 failed attempts to join the WHO under the designation “Chinese Taipei.” Each of those attempts, the most recent in 2008, were blocked by Beijing.
As a result, government officials have lauded Taiwan’s inclusion in the IHR and as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2009 as a “breakthrough” in international relations, ostensibly the result of warming ties between Taipei and Beijing.
However, the document adds credibility to claims that the development involved Chinese approval, a sensitive issue that officials in the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) have either downplayed or denied.
Former Department of Health minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) said in 2009 that participation in the WHA was the result of “direct communications” with the WHO and did not include China.
Health and foreign affairs officials have also praised the wording for Taiwan’s inclusion in the IHR as “Taipei” and in the WHA as “Chinese Taipei,” saying those were acceptable names that did not infringe on Taiwanese sovereignty.
The invitation extended by the IHR was addressed to the “CDC [Centers for Disease Control] Director in Taipei.”
However, underlying those appearances, the memo shows that Taiwan’s “correct terminology” used internally at the WHO is still consistent with past classifications, such as the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between China and the WHO.
“There has been no change in the status of Taiwan Province of China within the WHO,” the memo instructs WHO officials to say if asked about the arrangement with Beijing. “Information related to the Taiwan Province of China must be listed or shown as falling under China and not separately as if they referred to a state.”
The revelation comes at a sensitive time for Ma as his administration prepares to send its third delegation to the annual WHA meeting, which will take place from Monday until May 25.