The US is working closely with the government to develop a strategy to promote Taiwan's bid for participation in next week's World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, focusing on getting more wavering countries to support the bid, a senior US official said.
Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Randall Shriver said the strategy is still being put into final form, so he would not go into much detail on how the two sides expect to accomplish their goals, but he said he expected greater support for Taiwan's position than in the past.
"There are ongoing consultations with Taiwan about what the strategy will be, so it's difficult to be specific," Shriver said.
Based primarily on information supplied by Taiwan as it has canvassed World Health Organization (WHO) members, Shriver said he expects the number of countries supporting Taiwan this year will be "substantially higher than the last time this was put to a vote," in 1997, when the government began its efforts to gain observer status in the annual health assembly.
He would not venture an estimate of the vote count.
As for the impact of the SARS epidemic on the prospects for Taiwan's attempts to participate, Shriver said, "I think there are other countries that might have been reluctant for political reasons to support Taiwan before, but perhaps have greater sympathy for Taiwan now."
Shriver also indicated the US would be amenable to changes in WHA rules to allow a large measure of participation for Taiwan.
"The recent experience with SARS dramatically demonstrates why it's important to Taiwan to have appropriate participation, not only to benefit the people in Taiwan, but certainly there is much that Taiwan can contribute to the organization. So we would certainly be open to finding the way to do that," he said.
"We're working with like-minded countries and those we hope can be persuaded to show support for Taiwan. We'd like to see progress this year," Shriver said at a special briefing for the Taiwanese press corps in Washington.
Shriver indicated that the US intends to be more aggressive in promoting Taiwan's case than it has been in recent years, when the administration's efforts at the WHA irritated the country's main supporters in Washington.
"One element that is different [this year] is that we are a little bit more aggressive in working with like-minded countries. We think there's a possibility for greater support out there.
"And I think we're going to be very clear with the WHO director general [Gro Harlem Brundtland] and with the participants in the upcoming assembly," he said.
China has raised the topic in recent meetings between US and Chinese officials, but it is clear that neither side has had much success in changing the mind of the other.
"China has come to us and indicated they think Taiwan is politicizing SARS and trying to use that to further their candidacy," Shriver said.
In response, the US has reiterated its "very clear" position that it supports Taiwan's participation. "So these are generally short conversations," Shriver quipped.
The last conversation of the type occurred last week in Washington, during a visit of China's Vice Foreign Minister Chou Wen-zhong (
Shriver pledged that the US would be "overt ... and vocal" in pushing for Taiwan's participation in the assembly.