US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said yesterday that no UN agency has the right to unilaterally determine Taiwan’s status. Sebelius’ remarks came amid ongoing controversy over Taiwan’s designation in the WHO.
“We have made it very clear to the WHO and I think the United States’ position is that no organization of the UN has a right to unilaterally determine the position of Taiwan,” Sebelius said on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva when asked by press about the matter. “It needs to be a resolution that includes China and Taiwan in a discussion and we would very much welcome that road forward.”
Last week, it was revealed that a letter from WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍), sent in September last year, asked its recipients to refer to Taiwan as the “Taiwan Province of China” instead of “Chinese Taipei.”
In anticipation of Taiwan’s protest, China assigned the head of its UN mission in Geneva, He Yafei (何亞飛), to lead its delegation to this year’s WHA. In the past, its delegation was typically led by its health minister.
The Chinese envoy did not greet Department of Health (DOH) Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) nor shake hands with him during the opening ceremony on Monday morning. Instead, Chiu chatted with Romania’s deputy health minister, who took the seat next to Chiu. Romania also has observer status at this year’s WHA.
Later that day, Chiu held closed-door talks with Sebelius on the sidelines of the WHA.
Meanwhile, members of various Taiwanese NGOs were denied access to the WHA meeting for a second day yesterday. Instead, they ended up having to watch the WHA proceedings from a venue that was about 1km away from where the meeting was being held.
Head of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan Chang Chao-cheng (張昭正) said the WHO did not send an official to accept the protest letter from the group. The WHA had deprived the legitimate rights of Taiwanese as international citizens and discriminated against Taiwanese people, he said.
Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉), a member of the foundation, said that according to her understanding, Gian Luca Burci, the legal counsel of the WHO, was one of those who drafted the memorandum of understanding with China in 2005 “that had done tremendous damage to Taiwan.”
“It was like asking a ghost to fill a prescription for you (請鬼抓藥單),” Lin said, referring to a Taiwanese idiom when asked for comments on the letter of protest that Chiu presented to Burci. “Can the letter actually change the fact that Taiwan is considered a province of China? I think the result may probably disappoint the people of Taiwan.”
In related news, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus in Taipei yesterday expressed anger over a passport incident on Monday in which about 30 Taiwanese were prevented from entering the Palais des Nations, the venue of the meeting, because they did not have “proper” identification.
“The WHO officials clearly did not acknowledge our Taiwanese [Republic of China] passports ... I have already asked that our officials in [Geneva] file an official protest,” said DPP Legislator Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), a former DOH chief, adding that it was the first time this had happened.
DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said she was contacted directly by members of the NGOs over the issue and described how they were treated as “discriminatory” and “degrading.”