The controversial participation of Taiwan in the WHO is more complicated than the designation “Taiwan, China,” over which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have traded fire, analysts said.
Despite being harshly criticized for a recently leaked procedure concerning the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) — a set of WHO global health rules — with the instruction the refer to the nation as “Taiwan, Province of China,” the government has vehemently defended its WHO strategy.
The government has raised two key arguments in its defense.
On the one hand, the administration has emphasized the importance of participating in the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei,” on an annual basis and its inclusion in the IHR.
On the other, it has protested with the WHO over the reference to Taiwan as “a province of China” or “Taiwan, China,” a practice that has existed within the UN since 1971 and has been so strictly enforced that, in some occasions, the former DPP administration went along with it, the KMT administration said.
However, the problems facing the nation in terms of its WHO participation extend beyond the dimensions mentioned by the government, analysts said.
The KMT has strongly dismissed accusations by the DPP that arrangements in which Taiwan’s participation in the WHA and access to the IHR were made with Beijing’s involvement, though it did not deny that Chinese “goodwill” was beneficial.
However, the WHO procedure for IHR implementation has “put the government in an untenable position” to justify its WHO strategy, said Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉), chairman of the Foundation of Medical Professionals alliance in Taiwan.
The IHR implementation was the latest document regulating Taiwan’s interaction with the WHO. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that China and the WHO in 2005 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that has since been implemented.
“The WHO case shows that China has changed its strategy to repress Taiwan internationally from pursuing a policy of containment to establishing legal frameworks with international organizations that categorize Taiwan as part of China,” Lin said.
Chiang Huang-chih (姜皇池), a professor of international law at National Taiwan University’s College of Law, said there were fears that Taiwan would have to follow the “WHO model” in its quest for participation in other international organizations.
The 2005 MOU was proposed by Beijing against the backdrop of strong support for Taiwan by countries such as the US, Japan and the EU after Taiwan’s years of efforts in its WHO bid, Chiang said.
Increased awareness of the need to include Taiwan in the world health body after the SARS epidemic in 2003 was also a factor, Chiang said.
“Taiwan’s quest for a seat at the WHO hit a wall with the MOU, but not a single country blamed Taiwan for not accepting the MOU because it was China that wanted to change the ‘status quo,’ which no one would agree to,” he said.
However, in 2008, the KMT administration accepted the arrangement, in which Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the WHA and access to the IHR “were made with China’s involvement,” which was tantamount to its acquiescence to the MOU.