Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (
The US lawmakers' vote Friday shows ``that the United States realizes that leaving Taiwan outside of the world health system for political reasons is not only damaging to the people of Taiwan, but also to the global health situation,'' Chien said in a statement.
Chien said Taiwan wanted to bear the same responsibilities as other members of the international community, and help realize the WHO's ideal of ``health care without borders.''
With the SARS epidemic looming in the background, the US Senate has unanimously passed a bill to support Taiwan's participation in this month's World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, urging the White House to find a way to secure observer status in the WHO's annual global health forum.
"In light of all benefits that Taiwan's participation in the WHO can bring to the state of health not only in Taiwan, but also regionally and globally, Taiwan and its 23,500,000 people should have appropriate and meaningful participation in the WHO," the Senate bill said.
The Senate followed the House of Representatives, which on March 11 approved a parallel bill. In view of the fact that the two bills have different wording, the House will have to accept the wording of the Senate's bill before Congress can send the measure to US President George W. Bush to sign the measure into law. Such House action is expected to be a formality.
The bill orders Secretary of State Colin Powell to report back to Congress within 14 days of enactment explaining how the administration plans to secure observer status for Taiwan.
Since the WHA meeting will be held from May 19 to the 28, however, the report is not likely to reach Congress until after the assembly is underway.
Many lawmakers have expressed dismay over the response of the department to similar legislation passed last year, calling it lukewarm and noncommittal. The leadership of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus has sent a letter to Powell urging him to take a more forceful stance this year.
The congressmen also want the administration to speak openly in favor of Taiwan's participation on the floor of the assembly.
Last year, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, the head of the US delegation, spoke in support of Taiwan on the sidelines of the meeting, but not on the floor.
Taiwan's supporters say they have a commitment from the Japanese government to speak on the floor if the US does so first. There are also efforts afoot to get the EU delegation to follow suit.
The State Department has given no indication whether it plans to speak at the assembly.
After the bill was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, Republican Senator George Allen, the bill's sponsor, said, "With the SARS virus spreading from East Asia, it would be tantamount to medical malpractice to exclude Taiwan from participation in the assessment, treatment and cure of SARS and other dangerous diseases."
He noted that Taiwan has one of the world's most modern health systems and "excluding Taiwan from the WHO only deprives the world community of the wealth of health-related information Taiwan could provide."
Wu Ming-chi, president of the lobbying group, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, said, "With the current SARS crisis, Taiwan's lack of membership in the WHO is an outrage."