Mon, May 13, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Officials race against clock in bid effort

COUNTDOWN With the World Health Assembly set to vote on whether to include Taiwan's bid to become a WHO observer on its agenda this week, officials were hard at work yesterday soliciting support

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Chang Fu-mei, chairwoman of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, speak yesterday to the lobbying group for Taiwan's WHO bid in Geneva, where the annual World Health Assembly is set to kick off today.

PHOTO: CHANG CHIA-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan is beefing up its last-ditch efforts in lobbying various countries, especially the US, for its bid to gain an observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) amid what officials termed "overwhelming" opposition from Beijing.

The WHA votes today on whether to place Taiwan's bid on its agenda.

As the US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson reached Geneva yesterday morning for the week-long WHA meeting slated to begin today, Taiwanese officials were still pushing for a meeting with Thompson to try to gain US backing for the country's latest bid.

"We are still arranging the meeting," Head of the Department of Health Lee Ming-liang (李明亮) said yesterday before press time.

Lee confirmed that the US has promised that Thompson would speak in favor of Taipei's bid to become an observer at the WHA "on several occasions" during his stay in Geneva.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has conveyed to the US that it would like Thompson to voice support for Taiwan's bid during formal WHA meetings, sources said.

There are two WHA meetings today that should touch upon Taiwan's case. The first is the general committee's discussion in the morning which will decide whether to add Taiwan's application as a "supplementary item" to the WHA agenda. This afternoon's second plenary meeting will review the result of the committee's morning decision on the agenda.

Thompson is scheduled to give a luncheon talk tomorrow at the invitation of the World Medical Association, Lee said.

As of press time yesterday, it was not clear when the US would express its stance on Taiwan's bid, Taiwanese officials said.

When asked to specify Taiwan's strategy during the week-long meeting, Michael Kao (高英茂), vice minister of foreign affairs, said: "No option is closed. We are still contacting various country delegates."

Ambassador-at-large Ken Chiu (邱晃泉) told the Taipei Times that he has met with representatives from various countries since his arrival in Geneva to solicit their support for Taiwan.

"With the exception of Mexico, which has expressed its clear opposition to our applications and said it would speak out in favor of China during the meeting, many countries that we've contacted have expressed their sympathy with us," Chiu said.

Officials said that while they have been working overtime to strengthen support for Taiwan's bid and to capture more international media coverage, Beijing has been taking unprecedented measures to block their progress.

"Since we arrived we've confronted many difficulties far beyond our imagination, especially tremendous measures taken by China to suppress us," Lee said.

"The sabotage by Beijing of our bid during the past two weeks or so has been unprecedented," said Patrick Wang (王振台), spokesman for the Taipei delegation.

For instance, a series of advertisements for Taiwan's WHO bid at the Swiss airport were somehow removed on Saturday from the site earlier than the duration agreed between Taipei and a local advertising firm, Wang said.

The Swiss Committee of Communications has also denied Taipei's original plan to introduce a series of related advertisements to a French broadcast program in Switzerland, Wang added.

Lee said that other factors have also complicated the nation's bid. The original chairman of the WHA meeting, Chilean health minister Jinenez Azata, was unable to reach Geneva due to strikes by medical professionals in his country, throwing an unexpected kink in the proceedings.

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