Tuesday, May 15, 2007

WHA roadblock kills Taiwan bid

Taiwan's first effort to obtain full WHO membership under the name "Taiwan" failed yesterday as the World Health Assembly (WHA) ruled out the inclusion of the bid as a supplementary agenda item.

Applying for membership in the WHO under the name of "Taiwan" was the latest approach after 10 failed bids to obtain observer status at the WHA, the WHO's highest decision-making body.

During a closed-door General Committee meeting that lasted for almost two hours, Paraguay and Gambia spoke on Taiwan's behalf and asked for Taiwan's membership application to be placed on the supplementary agenda. But Cuba and China opposed the proposal.

After the debate, chairwoman Jane Halton -- an Australian -- announced that "Item 5," which dealt with admitting new members, would be struck off the agenda.

The proposal to put Taiwan's bid on the agenda was made by 12 of the nation's diplomatic allies: Belize, Honduras, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, the Solomon Islands, Swaziland and Tuvalu.

Gambian Minister of Health Tamsir Mbowe said in the meeting that Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO violated the body's Constitution, which calls for the "highest attainment of health for all people."

"We don't see any reason why Taiwan should not be included in the WHO," Mbowe said.

China and Cuba, however, argued that "Taiwan is part of China, and China has always looked after Taiwanese people's rights."

Japan and the US, which had both voiced support for Taiwan's WHA observership, kept silent.

Before the vote, two of the nation's allies, Belize and the Solomon Islands, opposed the exclusion of Taiwan's application from the provisional agenda, and they challenged the WHO Secretariat's authority to kill the application.

"The assembly is the only body that has the authority to accept or reject the application ... It's hypocritical to deny the health rights of the people living in Taiwan," the Solomon Islands delegate said.

Confronted by Taiwanese journalists at the door of the assembly hall prior to the assembly's opening ceremony, China's permanent representative to the UN Sha Zukang (沙祖康) said that it was up to the WHO Secretariat to rule on Taiwan's bid.

"Taiwan has the right to challenge the decision of the WHO Secretariat, but it has to follow UN regulations ... I personally have no right to make a decision," Sha said.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) defended the organization's refusal to deal with Taiwan's application, arguing that Taiwan is not a sovereign state and not eligible to apply.

In response to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) call for the WHO to deal with Taiwan's bid as it did with East Germany in 1968, Sha said East Germany was recognized at the time by most countries -- including West Germany.

"We [China and Taiwan], on the other hand, are still fighting over the `one China' policy ... The situation is different," Sha said.

While voting against Taiwan's application, the US, Canada and Germany (on behalf of the EU) later called on the assembly to support Taiwan's participation in WHO-related technical meetings.

At a roundtable meeting, US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt reiterated the US position of supporting Taiwan's "meaningful participation" in the WHO, rather than full membership.

"We do not support Taiwan's participation for membership," he said. "There is a virtue in having Taiwanese technical experts included in the discussions. But we don't support Taiwan's participation for membership."

Shouting "WHO, Taiwan Go, Go, Go!" and singing outside UN headquarters where the WHA was meeting, groups of Taiwanese who had traveled from the US, Europe and Taiwan gathered to support Taiwan's bid.

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