Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Taiwan warns WHO over missing link

Taiwan, stung by its 11th rejection for WHO membership, warned yesterday of the global health consequences its absence from the international agency might cause.

On Monday, the WHO voted 148 to 17 in Geneva to bar Taiwan once again -- despite a vigorous campaign by Taipei -- after China asked its allies to block the bid.

"If the WHO refuses to provide us with necessary information or enter into cooperation with us, and a gap is consequently created in the global disease control system, then the organization and [China] should be held fully responsible," the Government Information Office said in a statement yesterday.

China, meanwhile, hailed the vote as a victory in its effort to claim sovereignty over Taiwan.

"As the World Health Organization is an organ of the United Nations open to sovereign nations, Taiwan has no basic status to join," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

The vote "fully shows the common recognition by the international community of the `one China' policy," the ministry said.

Beijing also confirmed yesterday that it is discussing a second Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the WHO regarding Taiwan's inclusion in the latest version of the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

While claiming that the second MOU would be more "extensive" than the first one that was signed in 2005, Chinese Health Minister Gao Qiang (高強) blamed Taiwan for impeding the drafting of the memo by opposing the `one China' policy.

"We have been discussing with the WHO Taiwan's inclusion in the IHR, but face difficulties in proceeding because Taiwan has adopted an attitude of not admitting, accepting or cooperating with the `one China' policy," Gao said at a Monday night press conference in Geneva immediately after Taiwan's bid was rejected.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Tzu-pao (楊子葆) and Department of Health Director Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) later rebuffed Gao's remarks, accusing Beijing of defining Taiwan as a province in discussions of Taiwan's inclusion in IHR (2005).

"China is trying to limit Taiwan's inclusion in IHR (2005) in the second MOU ? It is impossible for Taiwan to accept being treated as a Chinese province and discuss the issue with it," Hou said in Geneva.

IHR (2005), which will be implemented on June 15, includes "universal application" -- allowing it to cover all the world's people, including the people of Taiwan.

Yang said China is planning to exchange letters with the WHO to solve the issue -- and that Taiwan strongly opposed Beijing's interference in the matter.

Yang demanded that the WHO address the issue by exchanging letters with Taiwan's Center for Disease Control instead.

While China promised in the 2005 memo that Taiwan would be allowed "meaningful participation" in WHO technical meetings, it demanded that Taiwan's technical exchanges with the organization be arranged through Beijing and any contact WHO had with Taiwan be cleared with the Chinese delegation in Geneva at least five weeks in advance.

Taiwan said the 2005 MOU was a "cheating, secret agreement," and accused Beijing of refusing to allow Taiwanese experts to take part in WHO technical meetings.

Gao said China had never refused to allow Taiwanese health experts to take part in such meetings, but it would not allow Taiwanese government officials to join inter-government meetings.

"Drafting a second MOU doesn't mean the first one wasn't good enough. No matter how many memorandums there are, our goal is to allow Taiwan to join more technical meetings," Gao said.

Yang said Taiwan would not accept any arrangement or designation that denigrates its status as an independent sovereign country.

In Taipei, President Chen Shui-bian said yesterday that Taiwan deserves to join the WHO because it is a country.

"It is clear that Taiwan is a country," he said. "Although many countries do not recognize us as a country, it does not change the fact that we are one. It is a fact and the status quo that nobody can deny."

Chen made the remarks while meeting senior staff from the nation's embassies and representative offices.

Taiwan is a country even if it is denied accession to the WHO or the UN, Chen said. If Taiwan were not a country, nobody would be its president, he said.

Chen said he was glad the WHA spent hours discussing Taiwan's application, although the final outcome was disappointing.

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