Wed, May 24, 2006 - Page 2 News List

China rejects health talks offer

`ONE CHINA' The minister of health's offer for talks under the WHO framework was rejected by Gao Qiang, who said any talks should be considered an 'internal affair'

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN GENEVA

Chinese Health Minister Gao Qiang (高強) turned down an invitation from his Taiwanese counterpart to hold a consultation meeting under the framework of the WHO in Geneva.

Laying down the "one China" principle as a precondition, Gao said on Monday that he was willing to hold talks with Taiwan's Minister of Health Hou Shen-mou (侯勝茂) concerning a cross-strait infectious disease prevention network "on an equal footing" as long as Taiwan agreed to the principle.

But Gao said he couldn't agree with Hou's proposal to use the WHO framework to hold a consultative meeting.

"Taiwan's health issues are an internal affair of China's and can't be internationalized ? and the issues would be solved much faster between brothers rather than dealing with them through the WHO," Gao said.

The Chinese health minister made the remarks at a press conference held at China's WTO mission building in Geneva on Monday immediately after Taiwan's latest bid for observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) was thwarted.

Asked by the press if he would consider holding meetings with Hou outside the WHO framework, Gao said the invitation should be extended through the "proper channels" of private organizations since there was no official communication channel across the Taiwan Strait.

Gao said the recent decision by Taiwan's government to scrap the National Unification Council was meant to "halt" the goal of unification, this made it difficult for China to hold cooperative cross-strait health talks with Taiwan.

Taiwan's Vice Minister Michael Kau (高英茂) and Hou had repeatedly called for China to set aside politics and to focus on cooperation in relation to purely health issues. But both said the government would not agree to the "one China" principle as a precondition for talks.

The one-hour long press conference was attended by Gao and China's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Sha Zukang (沙祖康).

Asked by a Taiwanese reporter why Sha had barked "who cares about you Taiwanese people" in 2003 when confronted by Taiwanese journalists at the WHA meeting that year, Gao at first appeared to block Sha from answering the question, but was challenged again by the journalist who said the question was for Sha to answer, not for Gao.

"This press conference is being given by the minister of heath; I hope you can focus your questions on me only," Gao said.

Sha later offered an explanation, claiming the reason he made those remarks was because Taiwan's bid for WHA observer status in 2003 "was rejected by the assembly."

"It is the will of the international community to reject Taiwan's application to become an observer," Sha said.

Sha's remarks caused a huge public outcry in Taiwan that year, prompting President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to discuss the possibility of holding a referendum to appeal for Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Increasing pressure for China to relax its position on Taiwan attending WHO activities led Beijing to sign a memorandum of understanding with the WHO's Secretariat last year to facilitate Taiwan's participation in technical activities of the WHO.

In response to questions why Beijing had banned Taiwanese health experts from speaking up during technical meetings sponsored by the WHO over the past year, Gao said it was to avoid Taiwanese officials making "non-health related comments" in those meetings.

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