WHO memo sparks outrage in Taiwan

PROVINCIAL TITLE::The revelation that Taiwan was labeled as ‘Taiwan Province of China’ comes as the government prepares to send a delegation to the WHA meeting

By Vincent Y. Chao, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Shelley Huang  /  Staff Reporters

Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 1

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.

The delegation is to participate under the name “Chinese Taipei.”

In the legislature, government officials faced tough questions over the controversy, with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators requesting that the administration boycott the WHA meeting to protest the memo.

“What this shows is that Taiwan’s official designation at the WHO is as a province of China and nothing else. All these other names are a sham,” said DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲), who released the memo to the media.

In a statement, the party called the information a “slap in the face” for the Ma administration, while DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called it a “serious” and “regrettable” incident.

“If this becomes Taiwan’s method of participating in international organizations, it will have a deep impact on our country’s global position and international space,” she said.

DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said to Department of Health (DOH) Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達), who will lead the delegation to the WHA meeting next week: “If you don’t speak up [during the WHA meeting] to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, it means that you accept the [WHO’s] MOU.”

Lawmakers said that if strong action was not taken in protest of the WHO’s definition of Taiwan as a province of China, Taiwan’s sovereignty would be seriously harmed.

Chiu said he and other department officials would attend the WHA meeting as representatives from “Chinese Taipei” as planned and that Taiwan’s sovereignty would not be undermined.

Supported by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials vowed to lodge an official protest with the WHO authorities in Geneva.

“Our government won’t accept the political stance outlined in the documents and will express a most strenuous protest,” the ministry wrote in a statement.

However, it said that the delegation would go ahead as planned.

During the lunch break, the National Security Council called an impromptu meeting to coordinate the government’s response strategy.

At a press conference following the meeting, Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) denied that the memorandum proved that the approach adopted by the Ma administration to participate in the WHA “humiliated the nation and forfeited its sovereignty.”

“Some [DPP] lawmakers have described [the government’s strategy to participate in the WHA] as a goat falling prey to a tiger, but I really have to respond with this: ‘How can you catch tiger cubs without entering the tiger’s lair?’” Yang said.

Taiwan’s participation in the WHA had not only expanded Taiwan’s international space and boosted its international invisibility, but more importantly made concrete achievements in enhancing the interests and welfare of the people and the nation, he said.

Saying that the memorandum was a reflection of the legal system and political facts of the UN, Yang called on the public to understand international realities.

“The reality in international politics has been unfavorable to Taiwan ... [Still,] the Ma administration has made certain achievements,” he said.

Yang said the government had received information on the memo very recently and had drawn up a plan to have Chiu file a complaint with the WHO Secretariat when he arrives in Geneva next week.

Deputy Minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), who was also present at the press conference, dodged questions on whether the arrangement on Taiwan’s participation necessitated Beijing’s approval.

However, Shen said he agreed that goodwill offered by Beijing in this regard was “limited.”

If Beijing had unreserved goodwill for Taiwan’s international space, Taiwan would not encounter the problems like this today, Shen said.

The memorandum was neither fair nor reasonable to Taiwan as it was not in line with the formula of Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, but the WHO had no choice but to do so to satisfy China, he said.

Shen said UN Resolution 2758, which transferred the seat at the UN from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China, was the root of the problem.

“The current administration has done much better than any previous administration,” as it has been able to let Taiwan appear at the WHA and have its voice heard under a name that is “sort of acceptable,” Shen said.

At a different setting, Ma said Taiwan and China were on an “equal footing” at the WHA.

“Our DOH Minister was addressed as ‘Minister of Health’ at the WHO’s invitation and at the WHA meeting, on an equal footing with mainland [China’s] minister. That never happened in the past 38 years. That earned our nation dignity and respect,” Ma said.