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Fri, Jan 07, 2000 - Page 3 News List

US report indicates membership in WHO not likely in short term

HEALTH MATTERS The Secretary of State says that the US is doing its part to help Taiwan gain participation in the WHO, but entry still remains an uphill battle

By Catherine Sung and William Ide  /  STAFF REPORTERS

In a report delivered to the US Congress on Wednesday, Secretary of State Madeline Albright said despite US support, Taiwan is still a long way from participating in the World Health Organization.

Responding to a demand from Congress, backed by legislation, the State Department was mandated to make a report outlining Washington's efforts and the difficulties in promoting Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

The report reiterated that because of the Beijing's "one-China" policy, the US could not support Taiwan's entry into statehood-based international organizations such as the WHO, but it is trying to assist the island gain "meaningful participation" within the organization. It pointed to China's strong opposition and the lack of international support for Taiwan as the main obstacles.

The report said that decision-making in most international organization is based on consensus, "and international support for Taiwan's participation in international organizations has been extremely limited."

Taiwan has been trying to obtain observer status in the WHO's annual World Health Assembly since 1996.

However, a vote among members would have to be taken to confer such status and based on the "overwhelming negative" vote in 1997, the report concluded that there is currently insufficient support among the WHO members to accomplish such a task.

What the US has done, the report said, is to consult Taiwan through its de facto embassy -- the American Institute in Taiwan -- on ways of WHO participation, such as through international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) affiliated with the world health body.

The US has also suggested the WHO secretariat find ways to help Taiwan contribute and benefit from the WHO, and proposed to the three parties (the secretariat, China and Taiwan) to find a way for Taiwan health experts to attend meetings in their professional capacities.

Taiwan has been excluded from the WHO since 1972, the year after Taipei lost its seat in the UN to Beijing.

"The US is thinking of different ways to assist Taiwan, but our participation also needs the support from other countries," said Minister of Foreign Affairs Chen Chien-jen (程建?H) yesterday, in response to the report.

US efforts alone cannot solve the dispute, said Susan Stahl, the AIT spokeswoman."The US does what it can. It's a member of the organization but does not run the organization," she said.

Albright's report was mandated under a bill signed by US President Bill Clinton in December, which called on the administration to demonstrate how it has -- as stipulated in the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review -- helped support Taiwan's participation in appropriate international organizations.

China continues to be the biggest obstacle to Taiwan's active participation in the WHO.

When Clinton signed the bill calling for the report last month, China lashed out at the legislation.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said the legislation was "seriously infringing upon China's sovereignty and grossly interfering in China's internal affairs."

The report also pointed out that the US, through its bilateral communication with Taiwan, had provided assistance and information to the island over the years.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was dispatched to Taiwan to help with a bout of foot-and-mouth disease in the spring of 1997, where 2.85 million pigs died or were put to death.

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