The US State Department has thrown cold water on Taiwan's hopes of gaining observer status in the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva any time soon, but has pledged to work to find new ways for Taiwan to work with the WHO on technical activities outside the WHA.
In an annual report to Congress on Taiwan's efforts to participate in the work of the WHO, and specifically Taiwan's efforts to take part in the WHA, the department said: "There is still no support from the overwhelming majority of WHO member states for granting Taiwan observer status at the WHA. Observer status will therefore remain a long-term objective."
The Taipei Times obtained a copy of the document from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The report, required by a law enacted by Congress a few years ago, was sent by the department to US Vice President Dick Cheney, in his position as president of the Senate, on April 17 and was officially forwarded to the committee on May 2. It was not made public at the time.
Despite this glum assessment, the department pledged to do more to involve Taiwan in WHO affairs.
"In the near term the United States continues its cooperation with Taiwan and others to identify additional practical measures to integrate Taiwan's health authorities further into health-related WHO activities," the State Department report said.
"In addition to our long-standing close bilateral cooperation with Taiwan on a range of health issues, the US government has through the years remained in close contact with Taiwan's unofficial representatives in Taipei, Washington, Geneva and in other capitals," it said.
"US embassies have continued to stress to foreign governments that the US supports increased participation, including WHA observer status, for Taiwan at the WHO," it said.
However, the report made no commitment for the US to speak in favor of Taiwan's participation during the WHA sessions this year, or to sponsor or support any resolution calling for Taiwan to be given observer status.
The WHA will meet in Geneva from May 22 to May 27.
Taiwan has been trying to gain observer status every year for the past 10 years, but its plans were foiled in the only two votes the organization has formally taken on its observer bid, in 1997 and 2004. In the latter vote, 133 member states voted to keep Taiwan off the agenda, while only the US, Japan and 23 countries with which Taiwan has diplomatic relations voted in its favor.
Over the past year, the EU has indicated growing support for Taiwan's participation, although neither the EU parliament nor administration has officially gone on record supporting Taiwan's immediate observer status at the WHA.
While US congressional support for Taiwan's position has in the past been strong, only one piece of legislation has been introduced in the current Congress, in May last year, supporting Taiwan's bid. However, in February, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde and the committee's ranking Democrat, Tom Lantos, sent a letter to WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook urging that Taiwan be granted observer status at this year's WHA meeting.
On April 10, 14 senators sent a letter to Lee urging him to include Taiwan in international efforts to fight avian flu, and to grant the country observer status at the Geneva assembly. They said that Taiwan's sophisticated healthcare system and medical expertise could be of use to other nations in fighting the bird flu "danger to the world."