Wed, Mar 20, 2002 - Page 3 News List

DPP asks China for WHO break

APPEAL DPP lawmakers say that the participation of Taiwan in the World Health Assembly should not threaten China since statehood is not required to gain observer status

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

DPP legislators Lai Ching-teh, left, Chen Chi-mai and Liu Shih-fang yesterday at a press conference to call on China to support Taipei's bid to become a WHO observer.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Backing Taiwan's bid to become an observer at the WHO would help thaw frozen cross-strait relations, lawmakers from the DPP said yesterday.

"Supporting Taiwan's bid to become a WHO observer would serve as the best icebreaker for cross-strait relations," DPP legislator Lai Ching-teh (賴清德) told the Taipei Times.

While Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛) in January softened Beijing's tone toward Taiwan by speaking of breaking the political deadlock across the Taiwan Strait, Lai said that if China were to stop obstructing Taiwan's WHO bid, it would be a significant gesture.

"Taiwan's bid won't provoke China's sensitivity over its state sovereignty as we only aim to obtain observer status in the WHO, a position for which being a sovereign state is not a requirement," Lai said.

To gain observer status, Taiwan needs the support of at least half the body's 191 members. Membership in the WHO, as a UN-affiliated international organization, is limited to sovereign states, but the organization does not specify qualifications for its observers.

The international medical organization, established in 1948, has given observer status to the Palestinian Authority and the International Red Cross.

With a new round of Taiwan's uphill battle to gain observer status slated to begin in May in the run up to the meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), several DPP legislators yesterday urged China not to obstruct Taiwan's WHO bid. The WHA is the highest decision-making body of the WHO.

Lai was joined by his colleagues Chien Chao-tung (簡肇棟), Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳), Yeh Yi-chin (葉宜津) and Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) at a press conference on the matter yesterday.

They stressed that Taiwan's participation in the WHO is a human rights issue, adding that the people of Taiwan should enjoy the same access to the highest standard of health care as their counterparts elsewhere.

Lai, also the head of the Health, Environmental Protection and Social Welfare League (厚生會), the largest subgroup in the Legislative Yuan, said that the group would travel to Japan on April 1 to conduct related lobbies for Taiwan's WHO bid.

But the Chinese government yesterday poured cold water on the DPP request that Beijing back down.

"Taiwan, as a sovereign province of China, has no right to attend the organization," said Zhang Qiyue (章啟月), Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman.

Zhang also slammed the EU for supporting Taiwan's bid to become a WHO observer, saying: "membership of all UN bodies is limited to sovereign states. China wishes to express strong indignation and resolute opposition to another interference China's internal affairs," Zhang said.

Taiwan got a boost in its observer bid when the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the EU, last Thursday passed a non-binding resolution that expressed support for Taiwan's participation as an observer in the upcoming WHA meeting.

The resolution also called on the European Commission, the executive body of the EU and EU member states to support Taiwan's application.

Taiwan lost its WHO membership in 1972.

Taiwan launched an international campaign to rejoin the WHO in 1997, but the effort has been thwarted six times in a row due to pressure from China.

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