Tue, Mar 26, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Suspicious aside, WHO bid to go on

REPRESENTATIONWith the furor over the intelligence funding mess clear in their minds, lawmakers yesterday wondered how the bid for WHO entry is being pursued

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂) yesterday vowed to continue Taiwan's bid for observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO), despite suspicions over the methods used to realize the bid.

Suspicions having been stoked by the recent National Security Bureau fund scandal, some lawmakers suspect that large amounts of funds from undeclared sources may have been used for the WHO bid.

"We are working hard. But there remains a big question mark over whether we will be successful," said Kau at the Foreign Affairs and Overseas Chinese Committee meeting in the legislature yesterday morning.

The next round of the battle to win observer status will come at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the highest decision-making body of the WHO. The next WHA meeting in Geneva will run from May 14 to 22.

Leery lawmakers

Asked by suspicious lawmakers whether agencies other than MOFA had spent funds to push for Taiwan's WHO bid, Kau said: "I don't think so."

Fresh from the annual meeting of Liberal International in Budapest, DPP legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) expressed her regret at the failure of foreign ministry officials to conduct related lobbying at the meeting.

"Why didn't you use the occasion, where one could meet prime ministers from Andorra and Estonia, among others, to conduct related lobbying?" Hsiao asked.

Related WHO rules stipulate two avenues for gaining observer status: The support of at least half the body's 191 members, or the invitation of the WHO secretary-general.

But Kau admitted that Taiwan has thusfar failed to establish formal contacts with incumbent WHO secretary-general Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The former Norwegian prime minister was to end her tenure at the WHO this year and is likely to seek a renewal of her term in office, a move that would require the backing of China and other important states from the West, Kau said.

Taiwan's call for admittance to the WHO, based on human rights and the supply of medical care across national boundaries, exercises "tremendous moral persuasion" on Capitol Hill and in the European Parliament, Kau added.

Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲), technical director at the Department of Health, said Taiwan's WHO bid, once realized, would give the nation a direct link to "the essential resources of the international medical community."

Recalling the outbreak of enterovirus 71 in 1998, which took the lives of some 80 Taiwanese children, Hsiao said that only assistance through bilateral channels was realized, while aid from the multilateral WHO system was utterly lacking.

"It was out of the question at that time for the WHO to dispatch experts to Taiwan," Hsiao said.

The vice foreign minister admitted that Washington has told Taipei that US support alone would not realize Taiwan's WHO bid.

"Our friends from the US side have told us at various times that we should not over-estimate their strength," Kau said.

The US failure in its bid for one of the "West European and Other Group" seats in the United Nations Human Rights Commission last May was seen by some as indicative of the limited strength of the US in some international organizations, Kau said.

Better relations needed

Opposition legislators such as Sisy Chen (陳文茜) and Kao Yu-jen (高育仁) said improvements in cross-strait relations would be instrumental in Taiwan's WHO bid.

"Within the next five years, it will be impossible for us to enter the WHO unless we resolve our problem with China," said Chen, a legislator without party affiliation.

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