Mon, Nov 15, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Nation gaining allies in WHO bid, officials say

SILVER LINING Despite Taiwan's recent failure in its attempt to be included in the world health body, some observers say increased support is grounds for optimism


Although Taiwan's bid to be included in the World Health Organization's International Health Regulations (IHR) was put on hold till February, health officials yesterday said that the pending bill is still a window of opportunity in the face of China's opposition.

"The fact that [the International Working Group on the revision of IHR] decided to further discuss the proposal means that we gained more allies to our side this time," said the Department of Health's Counselor Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲), who handles the department's international affairs. "It means that Taiwan's importance in global disease prevention can no longer be ignored. More and more member states realized that it is a matter of practical need and health imperatives to include Taiwan."

Hsiao's comment joined a flurry of optimistic interpretations of Taiwan's failed bid to be included in the IHR by the end of this year.

During the WHO's 12-day meeting on the IHR revision that began Nov. 1, Taiwan's diplomatic ally Nicaragua proposed revising Article 65. Nicaragua's proposal would have included in the IHR not only non-member states but also "territories" who can enforce codes of practice to prevent the spread of disease under the IHR umbrella.

If the proposal had passed, Taiwan would have been able to join the IHR as a territory and a health entity, bypassing the question of Taiwan's disputed status in the international community.

During the course of the meetings, the US and 16 of Taiwan's other allies publicly voiced support for Nicaragua's proposal, whereas 15 other member states followed China's lead and opposed it, the Central News Agency (CNA) reported. Although that might not appear to be strong support for Taiwan, there are more countries on Taiwan's side in this round of diplomatic wrestling, Taiwanese officials said.

"From member states' statements at the meeting, we actually have 42 countries who supported or identified with our appeal," Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Mission in Geneva, was quoted as saying.

According to Shen, Taiwan has edged closer to an advantageous position in which China will no longer muster an overwhelming majority against Taiwan's bid. Although Canada and EU countries did not take a public stance on the matter, they underscored at the meeting that the WHO's "principle of universality" must be recognized and respected. "The legitimacy and necessity of Taiwan's appeal can no longer be denied," Sheng said, according to CNA. "Though there are challenges, there is also more space for Taiwan."

In China, apparent internal contradiction has emerged with regard to Taiwan's bid. At the meeting last week, China's representative to the UN in Geneva Sha Zukang (沙祖康) vowed to make an all-out effort to obstruct Taiwan's bid to be included in the IHR, saying that hygiene and health cannot transcend national sovereignty. Yet China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) yesterday said that the IHR revision is a question of technicality and should not be politicized, the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite TV reported.

In February the WHO's member states will be asked to endorse a final draft of the IHR to be presented to the World Health Assembly in 2005 for adoption.

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