Four US congressmen who jointly chair the Taiwan Congressional Caucus have sent an eleventh-hour letter to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook supporting Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA), which commences on Monday in Geneva.
The letter comes in a year in which Taiwan's bid for observer status in the WHA has disappeared from the Washington radar. The letter is the first formal action by either Congress or the Bush administration this year to help Taiwan gain observer status in the annual WHA.
Not one congressman has introduced a resolution of support for Taiwan -- the first time that this has happened in several years.
And, unlike previous years, the Bush administration has not issued public statements urging China to allow Taiwan's participation or urging the WHO to do likewise.
It is not known whether the US will move to support Taiwan's bid to be placed on the WHA's agenda, or whether it will urge any other countries to support Taiwan's participation.
This contrasts with previous years, in which the House of Representatives regularly passed resolutions supporting Taiwan's bid, and senior administration officials, including former secretary of state Colin Powell, openly pushed for Taiwan's observer status.
In the letter, the four lawmakers also urged Lee to support Taiwan's participation in the International Health Regulations.
The signatories were Sherrod Brown and Steve Chabot of Ohio, Robert Wexler of Florida and Dana Rohrabacher of California. In past years, Brown has regularly introduced resolutions in the House supporting Taiwan's participation, which have usually been approved by the chamber.
The letter cites the growing global apprehension about new illnesses such as SARS and avian flu.
"To leave the Taiwanese people outside of the WHO network not only puts their lives at risk, but the lives of the entire global community," the letter says.
The letter also points to the recent inability of WHO to alert Taiwan of the erroneous distribution of the H2N2 influenza virus. It was only after Washington alerted Taiwan that Taipei was able to destroy the flu samples.
"The risks of dealing with such potential crises while 23 million of the world's citizens remain outside the global health safety net are self-evident," the letter says.
In addition to the letter, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, wrote to Lee on May 5 expressing his support for Taiwan's inclusion in the WHO, according to the Taiwan Washington lobbying organization, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.