Despite Taiwan's new-found international prominence as a result of the SARS epidemic, China will not soften its opposition to granting Taipei observer status in next week's World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, according to two prominent US academics.
China's Health Minister Wu Yi (
Wu "made it very clear" in a telephone conversation last week with US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson "that she disagrees, and China cannot support the American interest in seeking observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization," Gill said.
Gill was speaking after testifying at a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a congressionally created group monitoring such things as human rights in China, which discussed SARS and China's health-care system.
Huang Yanzhong, the director of the Global Health Studies Center at Seton Hall University, another panelist at the hearing, echoed Gill's comments.
China will continue to oppose observer status for Taiwan because "the decision makers in Beijing would think that if you allow observer status for Taiwan, Taiwan would probably ask for more and this would cause more problems in the future," Huang said after the hearing.
"China strongly opposes Taiwan's use of the SARS epidemic to apply for membership in WHO. Their position seems to be very clear about that. So I doubt this [SARS] would change their position about that," Huang said.
Gill said he thought the SARS epidemic has "created a new window, a greater degree of international sympathy for Taiwan in its effort to gain observer status in the WHO."
He added, "The case that Taiwan has been making, that it can make a valuable contribution to international health-care issues, is all the more clear now.
"But despite that, I don't think the Chinese position is going to change," he said
Nevertheless, Gill feels that China's agreement to allow two WHO specialists to go to Taiwan to help in fighting the epidemic is an important step.
"It's the first time, so that in itself is a very symbolic and important thing, and an important recognition that no part of the globe is isolated from the spread of epidemics," he said.
It is a recognition "that Taiwan is a global player, part of the global economy," Gill said. "But again, that is not going to affect Taiwan's ability to gain observer status in the WHO."
The 10-day WHA meeting begins on Monday. While the US has voiced support for Taiwan's entry, the US Department of State has not yet made any commitment to actively lobby for observer status for Taiwan.
Japan has made verbal commitments to Taiwan supporters that it would speak on the floor of the WHA assembly in favor of Taiwan's participation if the US made such a move.
A congressional resolution urging the Bush administration to push for Taiwan's participation in the WHA remains in the House International Relations committee, and there is no indication when it will move the legislation forward.
The US House and Senate have passed similar, but different versions of the pro-Taiwan legislation but under congressional rules the House must accept the Senate version before the bill can be signed into law.