Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 3 News List

WHO application: a question of health or politics?

`HEALTH APARTHEID' While China and Taiwan accused each other of gift-wrapping politics in health, it quickly became apparent that the two issues cannot be separated


Whether Taiwan's World Health Organization (WHO) application is a health imperative or a political maneuver was the question of the day during the World Health Assembly's (WHA) meeting on Monday.

"Those with Jesus in their hearts will see Jesus. Those with Buddha in their hearts see Buddha. Those with cow feces see cow feces. All China sees in this is politics, failing to see justice and compassion," Department of Health Director-General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said yesterday as the voting results came in.

At the same time, the Chinese delegation to the WHA accused Taiwan of using observership status at the WHO as a means to bring about diplomatic ends.

China had made clear from the start how it would view international support of Taiwan's bid: "As for those few nations who keep bringing up Taiwan's application, China views this as a challenge to the `one China' policy," the leader of the Chinese delegation, Minister of Health Gao Qiang (高強), said in a speech to the assembly on Monday.

"The Taiwan problem is an internal affair that needs to be decided by the Chinese people. No nation, big or small, rich or poor, can interfere with that," Gao said.

Indeed, the only nations to vote for Taiwan despite a lack of diplomatic ties were the US and Japan.

Following the vote, Japan issued a statement explaining its decision: "In view of the universality of the WHO as an international organization, it is the view of the Japanese government that it is desirable that as many countries, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and other [entities] take part in the work of the WHO."

Japan also cited its close geographical proximity to Taiwan and consequent vulnerability to infectious diseases in China and Taiwan as a reason for its support for Taiwan in the WHO.

By the same token, of the nations that had voted to keep Taiwan off the agenda, only the EU, represented by the Irish delegation, and Canada delivered speeches to explain their vote.

The speeches of the Irish and Canadian delegations were interpreted by Taiwanese officials as expressions of goodwill towards Taiwan, despite the `one China' policy that had ultimately decided the vote.

"For those countries that voted against Taiwan today, I can understand their predicament as they had to choose sides under the so-called `one China' policy," Chen said yesterday.

"For those who voted for Taiwan, I affirm their courage, and express gratitude," he added.

In addition to political and health considerations, the right to health, and consequently Taiwan's application, was also cast within a moral framework, with Taiwanese officials saying on more than one occasion: "Justice is on our side."

Furthermore, calling Taiwan's situation a case of "health apart-heid" has no doubt served to stir the international conscience.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂) went so far as to say that the US and Japanese vote to include Taiwan on the agenda carried "a lot of moral authority" in light of the two nations' monetary contributions to the WHO.

The WHA president, Pakistani Federal Minister for Health M.N. Khan, offered what he referred to as "some food for thought" at the conclusion of the three-hour-long debate on Taiwan's application.

"This is the eighth running year this has been going on. Some 170 countries from all over the world have gathered here, and the whole precious day has passed. It is almost nightfall, and the World Health Organization has not touched on one single health issue," Khan said.

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