The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to start discussing a format change of the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) today, a move seen as an effort to prevent lengthy debate regarding Taiwan's application to join the health body that delays assembly proceedings.
The Executive Board of the WHO, which will begin its 115th week-long session, will consider a wide range of health-related issues today. The board requested that WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook review the working methods of the health assembly and report his findings to the board.
In last year's WHA meeting in Geneva, the addition of Taiwan's application to the agenda sparked heated debate among member states, but the proposal was rejected after a vote. The whole process lasted more than four hours, forcing the assembly to postpone a speech prepared by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung by one day.
In documents prepared for its 115th session, the board expressed its concern over how the "Taiwan question" had affected the assembly process shortly after last year's WHA meeting.
"It was felt that lengthy discussions in the plenary on the agenda as proposed by the general committee should be avoided," said the document, which was published on the WHO Web site.
Debates on the addition of Taiwan's application to the WHA agenda have taken place on the opening day of the assembly for the past eight years. However, according to the new assembly model put forth by the board, discussions about Taiwan's application will probably be moved to the second or third day of the assembly meeting.
"Apparently the WHO Secretariat hopes to prevent one issue from delaying the whole assembly proceedings on its opening day by remodeling the working methods of the assembly," said a CNA report from Geneva yesterday.
The report said Director-General Lee and the WHO Secretariat have faced criticism over their handling of debate on Taiwan's application after last year's WHA meeting. In its document, the board suggested that "the timetable for the first three days of the assembly meeting could be adjusted to make more effective use of time."
The board also requested that the health assembly's general committee meet to discuss proposals for supplementary agenda items after the closure of the opening day's discussions. If its request is approved, Taiwan's application might not be mentioned at all on the first day of the assembly.
It remains to be seen to what extent the board's proposal will affect Taiwan's prospects of joining the world body.
"We'll see whether the board will reach a final decision on the format change of the WHA," said Michel Lu (呂慶龍), spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lu insisted that Taiwan's determination to participate in the WHO and contribute to global health network would not be affected by the format change of the assembly meeting.
The Taipei Cultural and Economic Mission in Geneva has briefed Taipei on the possible changes in the WHA format, the CNA reported.
"No matter how the format changes, Taiwan's efforts to join the WHO will not be affected. The most important thing for us this year is whether we will be able to make progress in the WHA," the agency quoted an unnamed Taiwanese official as saying.