Wed, Dec 31, 2008 - Page 3 News List

MOFA delays WHA bid until May

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan will not seek World Health Assembly (WHA) observer status at next month’s WHO executive board meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday, adding that the nation would have a better chance of success by concentrating on May’s assembly.

“After careful elevation and after [receiving the] advice of many key countries, it was decided that we would not push for observer status at the executive board because it would be more beneficial for Taiwan to negotiate the terms privately rather than ... in public,” said Paul Chang (章文樑), head of the Department of International Organizations.

Chang said Taiwan had not pushed its agenda at the board’s meetings in 2002, 2006 and this year.

The WHA is the supreme decision-making body of the global health watchdog.

The WHO executive board has 34 members, selected by member states on a rotating basis.

Three of Taiwan’s allies — Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe and El Salvador — are currently on the board, along with China and the US.

The board meets at least twice a year — in January and again May, shortly after the annual WHA session.

In the past, Taiwan, through an ally, has tried unsuccessfully to convince the board to include Taiwan’s membership application on the agenda for the WHA session.

Next year’s board meeting will convene from Jan. 19 to Jan. 27 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

So far, the US and Japan are the only two countries that have taken a supportive stance on Taiwan’s WHA observer bid, Chang said.

Chang declined to disclose any other countries that might throw their weight behind Taiwan after Taipei declared a “diplomatic truce” with Beijing when the new administration took over in May.

The Republic of China was one of the original members of the UN special agency when it was first established in 1948. However, its membership was revoked when the ROC forfeited its UN seat in 1971.

Taiwan has been trying to regain entry into the health body since 1997, but each attempt has been blocked by Beijing.

In May 2005, China and the WHO Secretariat signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to restrict Taiwan’s information access to the organization and circumvent Taiwanese health experts, who must gain Beijing’s approval to attend any WHO-related technical meetings.

Chang said this year the participation level of Taiwanese experts in WHO events had been lower than in previous years because of protests against the MOU.

Observer status at the WHA, he stressed, was his department’s primary goal.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has said Taiwan will not rule out the option of bidding under the designation “Chinese Taipei.”

Chang said Taiwan would never consider joining the health watchdog as an “associate member” to China, but would not rule out the option of entering as a “health entity” or bidding for “meaningful participation.”

When pressed by reporters on whether the government would apply for full WHO membership, Chang said: “Our goal has always been very clear, and that is observer status at the WHA.”

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