Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 3 News List

US', Japan's votes `sign of progress'

OBSERVERSHIP While Taiwan will not be included on the agenda of this year's World Health Assembly meeting, officials said the tide has started to turn

By Joy Su and Ho Tien-li  /  STAFF REPORTERS , IN GENEVA

Although Taiwan was denied observer status at the World Health Assembly for the eighth consecutive year on Monday afternoon, officials said that supporting votes from the US and Japan were a sign that progress has been made.

While the vote ultimately determined that Taiwan would not be included on the agenda of this year's assembly, it took more than three hours of debate to conclude the discussion on Taiwan's observership bid. Sixteen nations spoke in support of placing Taiwan on the agenda, while 31 opposed it.

"The US and Japan together contribute 42 percent of the WHO's budget. These are not just normal votes," Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂) said at the conclusion of the vote.

"Of course the vote's results are not ideal, but I feel that Taiwan has a lot of potential. The world has begun to change its attitude. Before, voting for Taiwan was viewed as doing Taiwan a favor, but today it became clear that it is not just a favor to Taiwan but also to the world and the WHO's integrity, effectiveness and functionality," he said.

With 170 member states voting on Monday, 133 voted in favor of the General Committee's recommendation to not include Taiwan on the agenda and 25 opposed the committee's recommendation, effectively voting for the placement of Taiwan on the agenda. A total of 158 member states were present for the vote, 10 were absent and two abstained.

Of the 25 votes in favor of Taiwan, 23 were cast by the nation's official diplomatic allies, and the other two by the US and Japan. The Philippines and Israel abstained.

The EU voting block and Canada both voted to keep Taiwan off the agenda. Taiwanese officials described the explanation the Canadian and Irish delegations gave on behalf of the EU as an indication of support for the participation of Taiwan in the work of the WHO.

While the votes were over-whelmingly in favor of keeping Taiwan off the agenda, the Taiwanese delegation took comfort in the process of voting and debating itself.

"This year, a total of 25 countries voted for Taiwan's observer status, as compared to 19 in 1997. This is the strongest support we have seen since we began our cause in 1997," said Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), director-general of the Department of Health.

The decision by Israel and the Philippines to abstain also indicated an improvement for Taiwan's WHO bid, Kau said.

"Ethically, Israel and the Philippines agree with us, but under the `one China' policy, they had no choice but to abstain. The most important aspect of the vote was that the whole world saw Taiwan being rejected from the protective umbrella of the WHO," he said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese delegation stressed that Taiwan was a province of China.

"We've welcomed Taiwan to send medical experts to participate in the WHA as part of the Chinese delegation," said Executive Minister of Health Gao Qiang (高強), China's chief delegate.

"Under the `one China' policy, the government is willing to open up negotiations on how to let Taiwan participate in the WHO. If Taiwan has any needs, it can just ask and we will give," Gao said.

Kau said in response that it was time to "stop talking about something that happened in 1971."

"All civilized nations will be forced to face reality. This is not about sovereignty anymore. Look forward. It's about how to create the best health conditions possible," Kau said.

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