A group of Taiwanese diplomats waited patiently last Tuesday in a corridor outside a committee room in the Palais des Nations, the UN building in Geneva, as delegates to the World Health Assembly (WHA) met to discuss revisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR).
It was one day after the WHA rejected Taiwan's ninth application for observer status.
Barred from attending the WHA, the World Health Organization's (WHO) top decision-making body, the Taiwanese diplomats hoped that with the insertion of the words "universal application" into the revised IHR, Taiwan might still have a chance to participate in the UN agency's activities.
The IHR is the WHO's global legal framework for infectious disease control.
When Dr. Solomon Chen (
The envoys could only learn what took place in closed-door WHA meetings by asking delegates from Taiwan's diplomatic allies.
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (
Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials who went to Geneva worked fervently for the country's bid and for the revisions of the IHR.
One told reporters from Taipei: "You can rest after your deadline. We have to keep working."
The WHA adopted the new IHR on Monday and the foreign ministry was pleased to see the words "universal application" in the rules.
The ministry said in a press release that it welcomed the adoption of the IHR. It said addition of the words "universal application" was the result of the country's long-time diplomatic efforts.
Some Chinese-language papers have called Article 3 of the IHR "the Taiwan Article." It states the regulations "shall be guided by the goal of their universal application for the protection of all people of the world" from the international spread of disease.
But nowhere in the new IHR was Taiwan been mentioned. Nor can people easily perceive a connection between the words "universal application" and Taiwan's participation in the WHO.
Moreover, the principle of "universal application" is nothing new to the WHO Constitution. Article 1 of the Constitution said the objective of the WHO "shall be the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health."
Yet the WHO has failed to take care of the health of the 23 million people in Taiwan. Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Hsin-yuan (
The foreign ministry has yet to explain how the new IHR can help Taiwan physically participate in the WHO. The ministry said the Center for Disease Control (CDC), could serve as a "National IHR Focal Point."
The IHR defines the focal point as "the national center" designed by each "state party" to be accessible at all times for communications with WHO IHR Contact Points under the regulations.
It is doubtful whether the WHO would agree to accept the CDC as a national IHR focal point since the WHO Secretariat signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China on May 14 to "facilitate" technical exchanges between the WHO and Taiwan.
The MOU said Taiwan is part of China. If the WHO does not regard Taiwan as a "state," it may not appoint the CDC as a national IHR focal point.
A long-time campaigner for Taiwan's WHO bid, who requested anonymity, said President Chen Shui-bian's (
Though the ministry views the addition of the words "universal application" to the IHR as an accomplishment, a lawmaker questioned whether there would be any realistic benefit.
The lawmaker said the ministry "has deceived President Chen and the public in Taiwan" about the country's progress in its WHO bid.
The US on Monday urged the organization to implement the IHR following the "universal application" principle.
"We attach particular importance to the universal application of the IHRs for the protection of all people of the world from the international spread of disease," said David Hohman, a member of the US delegation to the WHA.
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