The US House International Relations Committee has approved a bill that supports Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) and prods the State Department to find a way to gain observer status for Taiwan at next month's meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
By unanimous consent, the committee on Wednesday passed and sent to the House floor a bill that would authorize Secretary of State Colin Powell to devise a plan to gain observer status at the meeting for Taiwan, instruct the US delegation in Geneva to carry out the plan and introduce a resolution supporting Taiwan's observer status at the assembly summit.
The bill also calls on the secretary to report to Congress annually on progress toward developing and implementing the plan and on steps the department has taken to convince other WHO members to give their backing to Taiwan.
In addition, committee chairman Henry Hyde, a long-time Taiwan backer, has decided to send a delegation of committee staffers next week for meetings on the issue.
The bill, introduced last week by the four co-chairmen of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, is similar to legislation that has been enacted by Congress in recent years.
Such bills have been introduced annually since 1999.
Unlike earlier bills, however, the current one urges Powell to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the assembly.
"As the pace of globalization quickens and the spread of infectious diseases accelerates," the bill says, "it is crucial that all people, including the people of Taiwan, be given the opportunity to participate in international health organizations such as the WHO."
The bill cites Taiwan's own "substantial" achievements in the field of health, including higher life expectancy in Asia, low maternal and infant mortality rates, eradication of cholera, smallpox, plague, polio and other infectious diseases as well as a hepatitis-B vaccination program for children.
"In light of all the 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 bill says.
The bill cites Taiwan's achievements in fighting SARS, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, avian flu and other diseases on a local and global basis, its close work with US public health officials and its expressed willingness to help the work of the WHO.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate in February but it has not yet been acted upon by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.