Monday, December 17, 2007

Preparing Careful Response to China’s Legal Battle in International Organizations: China's MOU with the WHO Secretariat

As China’s national power rises, it increases its participation in international organizations and exercises the formulation of international law as well as provides personnel placement to key positions. Formerly, China’s bullying of Taiwan comprised of “hurling abuses.” This has been transformed into a method containing different types of legal wordings that are both corporeal and almost invisible. Soon after the storm subsides, China, under the appearance of following the rules, engages in legal battles with Taiwan that others are not able to see. Step by step in the international community, China fabricates, inculcates and transforms norms regarding the “One China Principle,” and attempts to convert the Taiwan issue into “domestic political affairs.” Thus, China is first requesting the legal assurance of Taiwan’s sovereignty to ultimately achieve—without the need of battle or armed forces—its ambition to annex Taiwan.

Among these practices, attention must be paid to the May 2005 memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between China and the World Health Organization (WHO), which to this day, its contents are still kept secret and publicly unannounced. Taiwan’s legitimate reasons and justified arguments to join the WHO, China’s handling of the SARS epidemic that became worldwide labeled as “troublemaking during an epidemic situation” were causes why it became intolerable that China obstructed Taiwan from joining this specialized organization that promotes global health.

Most importantly, at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2004, China’s provision of the WHO regular budget totaled more than 50% of the contributions of the U.S. and Japan combined. During that year’s assembly, it was the first time that members publicly voted to support Taiwan to become an observer member. Additionally, the EU and Canada, by the form of public statements, indicated that the WHO should consider the issue of Taiwan’s participation. For these reasons, under large pressure from the international community, China is confronted on finding alternative methods to obstruct Taiwan from participating and from building a global epidemic network.

In 2005, China successfully signed the MOU with the WHO Director-General of that time, Lee Jong-wook, of South Korean nationality. Even though the complete text of the MOU has not been exposed, according to research conducted by the media and China specialists, we have approximately pieced together three points contained in the contents:

1. Under Beijing’s consent, the WHO Secretariat is allowed to send invitation letters to Taiwan’s medical and public health specialists. These specialists are to participate under personal titles in each of the WHO technical programs, and when necessary, Taiwan specialists are permitted to state their country of origin as “Taiwan, China”;

2. Under Beijing’s consent, the WHO Secretariat is allowed to dispatch personnel and specialists to Taiwan to inspect public health and epidemic conditions, to hold related health discussions with Taiwan medical and public health specialists, and to provide medical and technical assistance;

3. If Taiwan were to experience critical public health outbreaks, under Beijing’s consent, the WHO Secretariat, upon necessity, is allowed to dispatch related cooperation personnel or specialists to Taiwan to conduct on the spot inspections or to provide technical assistance in public health.

The main objective of this MOU is simply an attempt to fabricate that Taiwan is a province of China, and that Beijing is the ultimate authority over health affairs and medical treatments in Taiwan. Not only is this agreement far from reality, it is also a critical violation of the recognition by twenty-four WHO member countries and Taiwan allies. Since all interaction between the WHO and Taiwan needs China’s consent, is the WHO becoming China’s Health Organization?

In speaking only on appropriateness, the MOU has even more uncertainties. Firstly, if the WHO and China believe that this MOU conforms to international law and reality, why have they not revealed the entire text publicly? Secondly, whether in the WHO charter or in related rules of procedures, without permission or approval from member countries, the WHO Secretariat’s governance and credibility is critically damaged. Lastly, the objective of the WHO is to make health issues superior than politics. Signing an MOU with China, the WHO Secretariat is simply employing political methods to resolve health issues, attending to the superficial and neglecting the essentials. If the WHO has true intentions in resolving Taiwan’s participatory problem, they should have at least consulted the Taiwan opinion, and not because under Chinese pressure, sign an MOU that is unacceptable to Taiwan. The WHO Secretariat failed to resolve the deadlock, not only achieving any good, but also loosing its international reputation. This has also caused the loosing prospects of all three parties: the WHO, Taiwan and the global epidemic network.

Essentially, this MOU enlarges difficulty for Taiwan to obtain epidemic and medical information. Just using the recent poisoning incident of Thai baby corn as an example, the WHO did not pass information directly to Taiwan and instead relied on China to pass information to Taiwan’s national center of disease control. The Chinese government delayed passing the information for 7 days. But fortunately, Taiwan did not import any baby corn from Thailand; otherwise, the product would have already been distributed to the market within a 7-day period—not to mention the previous meetings where Taiwanese specialists applied to participate, in which visas were needed under the evaluation of Beijing. Taking more than five weeks evaluation, some visas were never issued! For these reasons, the MOU does not help Taiwan advance into the entire system of information about global epidemics, but only makes Taiwan more isolated.

We appeal our government not to remain passive. The government must adopt practical ways to oppose the MOU, such as requesting our allies in the assembly’s executive committee to question the WHO Director General’s right to single-handedly sign agreements with other countries. Our government must also ask our allies to request the publication of the MOU’s contents, so that the legality and suitability of the law is confirmed. These contents must be revealed to the media and international groups in order to allow them to understand the severity of the situation. If not, China can request international organizations to execute the MOU once it is instituted. This would restrict Taiwan under the “One China Principle” and limit Taiwan’s claim of sovereignty as well as denouncement of China’s annexation wishes. Most importantly, the 23 million people of Taiwan will never be able to live free of epidemic threats.

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