Taiwan must not rely on China’s so-called goodwill for its WHO bid, officials, academics and social advocates said yesterday in Taipei, urging president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to avoid looking for a compromise with Beijing before moving on important issues such as public health.
At a forum held by the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan on the challenges the country will face this year in its attempt to join the world health body, panelists panned Ma’s policy of “cross-strait affairs first, foreign affairs second” as “detrimental” to healthcare in the nation.
“In an international setting, Taiwan and China should enjoy equal footing when engaging in negotiations. However, if the negotiations are held behind closed doors, Taiwan will undoubtedly be negotiating at a disadvantage,” said Jiang Huang-zhi (姜皇池), associate professor of law at National Taiwan University.
He said negotiations with China should be conducted on an open international platform to ensure that the nation’s rights were not being compromised.
Even following Ma’s election victory, China would still bar the nation’s WHO bid unless Taiwan was willing to relent by becoming part of the Chinese delegation or be an “associate member” to China, Jiang said.
Since the Taiwanese people would never agree to the options offered by China, the issue would continue to remain unresolved, he said.
In 2005, China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the WHO to restrict Taiwan’s involvement in the health body. In the MOU, China agreed Taiwanese medical experts could enjoy “meaningful participation” in WHO-related events.
However, the Department of Health said the nation’s access to those events had not seen any significant improvement since the MOU.
“This is why we are saying meaningful participation is meaningless unless Taiwan can become an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA),” said Lin Yong-le (林永樂), head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of International Organization.
The WHA is the decision-making body of the WHO and it meets annually to discuss pertinent issues. Since 1997, Taiwan has sought to become an assembly observer, but all attempts have been rejected by Beijing.
Department of Health Deputy Director-General Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉) said Beijing has repeatedly failed to make good on its pledge to pass WHO information on to Taiwan in a timely fashion, as indicated in the MOU.
For example, in the case of the recent entrovirus outbreak in China, although the story hit the international media in the middle of last month, China did not officially notify Taiwan of the fatal disease outbreak until four days ago, he said.
Foundation president Wu Shu-ming (吳樹民), who has been championing Taiwan’s WHO membership since 1996, urged Ma to work closely with lobbying groups and heed their suggestions.
“We are able to provide him with valuable suggestions since we have been working on it for over a decade,” he said.