Taiwan on Friday urged the US Congress to help it gain participation in the upcoming annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), in a letter sent by Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and all other members of the House of Representatives.
With only two weeks to go before the meeting in Geneva — the world’s most significant public health assembly — Wu said that Taiwan’s standing in the WHO has deteriorated since China convinced the global health organization to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2005 that requires the WHO to channel all of its communications on world health problems to Taiwan through Beijing.
Wu’s appeal came after the US State Department, in an annual report to Congress on the matter, declined to say what it planned to do in Geneva to support Taiwan’s bid for observer status.
While the department said it continues to support observer status, it did not address a congressional requirement, passed in 2004, that it devise a plan to secure Taiwan’s observer status, and take steps to accomplish that goal.
In view of that, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), which Wu heads, has apparently decided to turn again to Congress to buoy Taiwan’s attempts to secure observer status.
“Congressional support for Taiwan’s campaign for WHA observer status has always been a very important force to push the international society to support Taiwan, so Ambassador Wu wrote that letter,” Tung Kuo-yu (董國猷), TECRO’s newly-installed deputy representative, told reporters on Friday during a press briefing.
Since the 2005 MOU between China and the WHO, Taiwan has received only 16 of 231 public health notifications issued by the WHO, Wu said in his letter.
Taiwan was notified in advance of only 40 of more than 1,000 WHO technical meetings and allowed to attend only nine of those, he said.
He also cited a WHO decision last December, pursuant to the MOU, which denied eight major Taiwanese ports the ability to accept what are called Ship Sanitary Control Certificates — necessary to operate in international commerce — incorrectly labeling them as under China’s jurisdiction.
“This caused immense confusion in our ports — some of the busiest in East Asia — and impeded the flow of goods to Taiwan for some time,” Wu said.
In addition, Wu recalled the incident last September in which Thailand exported contaminated baby corn, resulting in severe illness in certain countries.
While Taiwan received shipments of the corn at the time, its public health authorities were not informed of the tainted shipments for several days.
Wu’s letter comes as Washington is involved in an urgent debate on how to improve the US health are system, and is increasingly looking at Taiwan’s system as a model.
A recent edition of the highly-respected program Frontline on the government-financed Public Broadcasting System featured extensive coverage of Taiwan’s healthcare system among five countries’ systems that are cheaper, more inclusive and more efficient than the US system, with the implied suggestion that the US should copy Taiwan’s system.
The US House Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing later this month on how to fix the US’ problem-plagued and limited healthcare system, and has invited Taiwan’s Health Minister Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) to advise the committee on how to improve the US system.
The chairman of the committee, John Conyers, in a major speech on the House floor on Thursday entitled “Our Worsening Health Care Crisis,” proposing a better system for the US, pointed to Taiwan as a potential example, saying “I propose a plan that is publicly financed, but privately delivered, like ... Taiwan.”
In his letter to Pelosi and the other House members, Wu said: “As we approach the 2008 WHA meeting, Taiwan’s participation is perhaps more important than ever before.
“The past few years have seen a deterioration in Taiwan’s standing with the WHO, resulting in potential threats to the well-being of our people and perhaps the rest of the world,” he said.
“I hope you share the view of my government that the above-mentioned 2005 MOU and Taiwan’s continued exclusion from the WHA are not only a threat to international public health efforts, but also an affront to the human rights of the people of Taiwan, just as the PRC’s hostile military posture against Taiwan is an affront to the security and stability of the region,” Wu said.
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