Sadly, for the 11th time, Taiwan's bid for admission to the WHO has failed and the humiliation of its 23 million people continues. Despite Taipei's insistence that it will keep up the fight, the time may have arrived -- and I write this begrudgingly, having placed my hopes in international institutions for many years and enthusiastically supported Taiwan's latest effort -- for Taiwan to face reality: the WHO constituents are locked in the past and refuse to abandon the parochial, realist system of sovereign states, of which the UN serves as a symbol.
As activist and long-time chess champion Garry Kasparov recently wrote in Foreign Policy magazine, the UN (and its agencies) is "now so outdated that suggestions to reform it are themselves past their time." Just ask anyone in Darfur nowadays if the UN is a functioning organization.
As China's political weight is unlikely to diminish in coming years, for Taipei to stay the course and keep applying at the WHO will assuredly be a costly exercise in futility that in the long run can only sap Taiwanese morale. Fought with the honorable intention of changing the UN's views, the battle is an unwinnable one for Taiwan.
What it must do, then, is embrace the 21st century and approach the problem from a different perspective. The way to achieve this is asymmetrical -- in other words, just as in armed conflict, the weaker party must avoid fighting on its stronger opponent's terms and exploit the latter's foibles. Consequently, Taipei must abandon the state-based approach of applying with member states at the WHO who are beholden to China and instead exploit, a la Sun Tzu's Art of War, the system's weaknesses -- and Beijing's.
This guerrilla tactic should be buttressed on the dire state of the health system in China and the fact that its government is less than open about issues regarding health and the environment, which are now in fact state secrets. Where Beijing is weak, Taipei must therefore be strong. As such, in contrast to China, Taiwan should become a beacon of monitoring and openness on epidemiology by greatly investing in its scientific research apparatus and facilitating exchange programs with scientists across the globe. It could, for example, turn the fiasco of the SARS epidemic in 2003 to its advantage and use the lessons learned from this traumatic yet unique experience to become a leader on surveillance and crisis management in time of epidemic.
Furthermore, as WHO membership will feasibly remain an elusive dream for years to come, Taiwan must emphasize its connections at the non-state level and develop its own, parallel networks. One great advantage Taiwan has over China is its respectability on human rights issues, which has earned it the trust and friendship of many non-governmental organizations. During this year's WHO bid, for example, the France-based Reporters Without Borders was vociferous in its support for Taiwanese reporters receiving accreditation so they could cover the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva. From an asymmetrical point of view, Beijing's horrendous reputation with rights groups can only but play to Taipei's advantage.
Through skillful diplomacy and perhaps some investment, Taiwan could establish or consolidate alliances with health organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to give but two examples, or research labs in other countries. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are other non-state actors Taipei could certainly do business with.
Beyond the WHO, beyond the states locked in the realpolitik mindset, are thousands of dedicated scientists, researchers, reporters and donors who would be more than happy to see Taiwan seamlessly integrate the global health system. This, too, Taiwan can use to its advantage. As a technologically advanced state with tremendous connectivity, Taiwan need not seek to tap into or solely rely upon the WHO network to access the information and expertise it needs or to fulfil its role within and responsibilities toward the international community.
If the WHO doesn't want Taiwan, then so be it. For the truth of the matter is, in the 21st century, Taiwan doesn't necessarily need the WHO.
By turning its health system into an innovative model for research and prevention, and by actively pursuing asymmetrical access to the global health community via modern, non-state-based channels, Taiwan could bypass the archaic Cold War mentality that unfortunately prevails to this day and ensure that the right of its citizens to full information on health isn't curtailed by Beijing's narrow-mindedness. It would also help demonstrate, yet again, that when it comes to responsible global citizenship, Taiwan is light years ahead of China.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Last month, the Philippine National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea reported that more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels were anchored at the disputed Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea, known as Julian Felipe Reef in the Philippines. The task force released astonishing photographs, which showed clusters of enormous fishing trawlers at anchor and tied together in neat rows. Needless to say, the ships were not engaging in commercial fishing activity; they belong to China’s “maritime militia.” Beijing’s flimsy official explanation is that the vessels are temporarily seeking shelter from inclement weather. This is patently ridiculous, given the time that