That “turned the situation around,” Chiang said.
“Now, Taiwan would bear the blame if it said it did not want the ‘WHO model’ to be applied in its quest for membership in other international organizations,” he said. “Who would support you if you wanted to back away from deals you agreed to?”
The MOU also means that Taiwan is not treated as an equal observer in the WHA, Chiang said.
“The main difference is that the invitation to Taiwan to attend WHA sessions is subject to review by China on an annual basis, while the WHO Secretariat extends the invitation to other observers without any prior review [by an external player],” he said.
What’s worse is that WHA observers are informed of WHO executive board meetings, technical meetings, experts meetings and are invited to attend the events at their discretion, but Taiwan can only attend the meetings at the invitation of the WHO Secretariat and with Beijing’s consent, Chiang said.
“In short, Taiwan has no rights in the WHO — only China does,” he said.
Since 2009, the WHA is the only occasion hosted by a UN agency in which the Republic of China has been able to participate since it exited its UN seat to China in 1971.
However, the exclusion of Taiwan in the WHO does not mean it had no opportunity to access the organization before its invitation to attend the WHA in 2009, said Peter Chang (張武修), a professor at the school of public health at Taipei Medical University.
“At one point, Taiwan had a high-profile presence in the WHO, especially after the outbreak of SARS in 2003, with medical professionals actively attending experts and technical meetings, sometimes under the name we liked,” Chang said. “However, the chances for Taiwanese experts to attend WHO meetings decreased significantly after 2008.”
The arrangements by which Taiwan could participate in the WHO’s technical or expert meetings were made through multilateral negotiations with concerned countries, he said.
Having served as a health attache at Taiwan’s representative offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Brussels from 2002 through 2009, Chang attributed the change to several reasons.
It took about a year for the KMT government to reorganize its diplomatic operations, which led to a decision that gave more weight to Taiwan’s participation in the WHA via talks with Beijing than a presence at expert or technical meetings, Chang said.
At the same time, the WHO Secretariat, headed by former Hong Kong director of health Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍), since 2007, gradually developed its strictly enforced standard operating procedures in accordance with the MOU, Chang said.
After Chan took office, she appointed Fu Cong (傅聰), a former Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs official, as an adviser in her office and one of his main jobs was to keep an eye on Taiwan’s activities in the WHO, he said.
The government said the MOU and the IHR implementation did not infringe on the country’s sovereignty because of its “three noes” policy.
Following the inclusion of Taiwan in the IHR, when Taiwan needs to notify the WHO on health information, it will now first have to notify Beijing, he said.
“Health information should be a country’s sovereignty. [But now], when Americans need disease information about Taiwan, it won’t need to ask Taiwanese authorities, as it can obtain it from China,” he said.