Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Should the WHO hold “One-China Policy”?

Just weeks ago, President Chen Shui-Bien of Taiwan has written a letter directly addressed to WHO Director-General Margret Chan, stating Taiwan’s intention to apply for full membership of the organisation. The Director-General then went on to CNN responding that since “one-China policy” is THE overriding principal of the organisation, as the first ranking official she will deal with the issue regarding Taiwan according to this presiding policy. Some media outlets subsequently pointed out that the assertion by the Director-General would exacerbate the predicament Taiwan is facing at the moment. Due to the fact that Foundation of Medical Professional Alliance in Taiwan (FMPAT) has long been actively involved in the bid for WHO membership, I would like to provide some humble opinions regarding the subject.

First of all, we have to distinguish the difference between “observeship” and “membership”. According to the WHO constitution, the term “observship” does not exist in the apparatus of the organisation, the so-called “observeship” is a status granted to microscopic nations like the Vatican or international NGOs such as the Red Cross that allows them to attend the WHO assembly for the week in May every year in which all the membership countries are present, yet with very limited participation.

If we return to our argument, does or should the WHO hold the so-called “One-China policy”? In April 2004, the former Director-General Lee Jong Wook of South Korea has brought up the issue in his speech but then was later clarified by the organisation’s spokesman as being “misquoted”, stressing that WHO does not have “One-China policy” and all applications should be reviewed by the membership countries as the WHO secretariat has no authority over this. Due to the fact that the rules of procedure in either the WHO or WHA have not explicitly explained the Director-General’s authority on the verification of statehood, along with the political sensitivity surrounding the issue, the former Director-Generals have nonetheless kept well away on the ground of technicality, refraining themselves from the tricky role of an arbitrator on the qualification of the applicants.

Take East Germany for example; in 1968 when West Germany was already a member of WHO, the Director-General did two things after the organisation received the application of East Germany. First of all, he filed a motion which put the case on the agenda of the assembly along with the related constitution and rules of procedure for all the members to consult. Moreover, in order to eliminate the possibility of a preconceived agenda, he wrote an open letter stating that it should be up to the assembly to decide on East Germany’s application, not him. In 1972, the Director-General quoted article III of WHA constitution, “the Director-General can invite the applicant countries… to attend the WHA assembly as observant”, in that very year, East Germany obtained observship and attended the assembly, and was granted membership the following year.

Hence, the assertion made by Margret Chen has overstepped the boundaries and indeed broken the tradition regarding the authority of the Director-General. We would like to call on the Director-General to follow the adequate procedure instead of acting on one’s own judgement.

Since the establishment of WHO, it has in many occasions stressed the universality of its membership; therefore it only requires consents from half of the membership countries, and what is more important is that there is no veto right. After WWII, when East Germany and Japan were both still under allies occupation, they have already obtained membership status despite the fact that they were not even in theUN. For this reason, why the WHO on the one hand, put up a massive budget in constructing the invincible global health defence system and on the other, trying every mean to prevent Taiwan from joining the organisation?

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