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Fri, May 11, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Chance of success slight, says DOH

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

If Lee Ming-liang (李明亮) earlier sounded upbeat about Taiwan's chances of joining the World Health Organization (WHO), that's because higher-ups were putting words into his mouth.

Lee, director-general of the Department of Health, said yesterday that the nation's chances of joining the WHO as an observer this year were in fact "miniscule."

A few weeks ago -- before departing for the annual week-long summit of the WHO assembly in Geneva -- he said he was confident Taiwan's would be successful in its bid.

"I was forced to say that I was optimistic about Taiwan attaining observer status in the World Health Assembly this year to avoid disappointing the public," Lee explained yesterday.

"I had to suppress the impulse to tell the truth with great determination."

Lee said pressure from China on Taiwan's international allies was the key obstacle to Taiwan's entry into the organization.

"Taiwan's participation in the WHO is an extremely complicated political issue," Lee said.

"Many foreign health officials that are Taiwan's friends have no choice but to conform to their countries' [diplomatic] policies when they are at the WHO assembly."

Lee said he was disappointed that the US Senate had failed earlier this month to approve a bill that would require the George W. Bush administration to push for Taiwan's participation in the WHO as an observer.

Approval of the bill by the US House of Representatives in late April had renewed Taiwan's hope for entry into the organization.

The senate passed a watered- down version of the bill on Wednesday, changing the wording "must support" to "should support" Taiwan's efforts to gain observer status.

Lee said he suspected that the strained relations between China and the US might have been responsible for the US' reluctance to agree.

The standoff between the US and China resulting from the Hainan surveillance plane drama in April and US arms sales to Taiwan announced in the same month might have influenced the US' stance.

"The United States could offer further support to Taiwan to declare its fearlessness to China. But on the other hand, it may want to compromise with Beijing on insignificant matters to ease the tension between the two sides," Lee said.

"[To the US], Taiwan's membership in the WHO is an insignificant matter," Lee added.

Susan Stahl, spokeswoman at the American Institute in Taiwan, said that there was no connection between the incidents.

"The United States has a long-standing position on supporting Taiwan's participation in the WHO, and the policy has not changed," Stahl said.

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