Mon, May 16, 2005 - Page 2 News List

MOU poses a threat to WHO bid, officials say

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN GENEVA

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) China signed with the World Health Organization (WHO) Secretariat facilitating technical exchanges between Taiwan and the WHO last Saturday poses a major difficulty for Taiwan's ninth bid for observership in the health body, government officials said yesterday.

With the World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO's highest decision-making body, slated to open in Geneva today, Taiwanese officials have learned that the contents of the MOU center on China's former four-point proposal to deal with Taiwan-related questions in the WHO.

China put forth the four-point proposal during last year's WHA, demanding that Taiwan's technical exchanges with the WHO should be arranged through Beijing. Taiwan will launch its ninth bid for observer status in the WHA today.

It remains unclear whether the MOU, reached between China and the WHO Secretariat, can be enacted in a third territory such as Taiwan.

The legal foundation of the agreement, according to Taiwanese officials, is shaky.

China's all-out "unification war" with Taiwan and the signing of the MOU put Taiwanese diplomats working on the WHO bid "under massive pressure," said a government official who requested anonymity.

The MOU is expected to be mentioned in the WHA, as Taiwan mobilized its diplomatic allies to table the proposal of adding Taiwan's application for observer status to the assembly's provisional agenda today.

"The strange thing is that the MOU has been kept secret. There must be something there that they don't want the world to know," said Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂).

"The memo is absolutely against the health and medical needs of the Taiwanese officials. We need substantive contacts with the WHO," said Kau, saying that indirect communication with the WHO would hinder Taiwan's efforts to control contagious diseases.

This year, apart from observership in the WHA, Taiwan is seeking inclusion in the International Health Regulations (IHR), the WHO's global legal framework for infectious disease control, as the WHA prepares to adopt revisions of the regulations during its committee sessions tomorrow and Wednesday.

The MOU also poses an obstacle for Taiwan to be covered by the IHR. It remains to be seen whether Taiwan can obtain substantive contacts with the WHO under the IHR after revisions of the regulations, governmental officials said.

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