Beijing’s latest tactic to enforce the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan has been to block Taiwan’s bid for observer status in the World Health Organization, writes Peter Westmore.
Efforts by the Chinese Government to enforce the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan have been rebuffed, as Taiwanese voters strongly supported constitutional reforms proposed by the Government of President Chen Shui-bian, while China’s bid to exclude Taiwan from the World Health Organization have come under strong international criticism, particularly in the United States.
Since Taiwan became a fully-fledged democracy in the 1990s, China has redoubled its efforts to enforce its “one-China” policy, aimed at the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan and ultimately, its absorption into China itself.
While Beijing has repeatedly used the term “peaceful reunification” to describe its Taiwan policy, the violence of its language, and its political, military, diplomatic and propaganda offensives against the democratically-elected government of Taiwan have left no doubt that it is willing to use force against its smaller neighbour, if circumstances permit.
For this reason, Taiwan is a litmus test for China’s true intentions as a global power.
The latest battleground is the World Health Organization (WHO), whose annual assembly is currently under way.
Aware of China’s hostility towards its participation in international forums, Taiwan is seeking merely observer status at the WHO, where it has sought representation for many years. It has the strong support of Japan and the US Administration.
A group of American congressmen have supported the efforts of their government by calling for Taiwan’s inclusion in the world health body. In light of the fact that most influenza epidemics originate in China, and Taiwan is one of the first countries in the path of these epidemics, they said that the health of its people must be the first priority.
In a letter to the Secretary-General of the WHO, they pointed out that Taiwan has a modern, world-class health-care system and has lent its talents and resources to people in need throughout Asia and around the world.
They said, “Taiwan has much to contribute to global health and deserves a place under the WHO umbrella.”
There is growing apprehension about the emergence of new and dangerous illnesses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and avian flu, both of which originated on the mainland.
The recent erroneous distribution of the H2N2 influenza virus to laboratories around the world, including 15 laboratories in Taiwan, was an example of the importance of Taiwan’s participation in the WHO.
Earlier this year, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar and the House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde both wrote to the WHO in support of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s membership of the WHO would in no way damage China. It is already a member of many international bodies, including the World Trade Organization, of which China is also a member.
A month ago, two senior opposition leaders in Taiwan, KMT leader Lien Chan and People First Party chairman James Soong, visited the mainland, and were feted by the Chinese Government.
During the visit, Chinese officials displayed a lot of “goodwill” in supporting Taiwan’s participation in the WHO, opposition politicians in Taiwan reported.
Several senior Chinese officials, including Jia Qinglin, chairman of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference, promised the KMT delegation that Beijing’s diplomats would discuss with the WHO Director-General how to let Taiwan participate in the health body.
However, on the eve of the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, China and the World Health Organization signed a memorandum of understanding “facilitating” technical exchanges between Taiwan and the WHO, but insisted that they must be arranged through Beijing.
A KMT legislator, Chu Feng-chih, who had visited China officially before Lien Chan’s recent visit, expressed the sense of betrayal of many Taiwanese people who thought that China’s attitude towards Taiwan was beginning to thaw.
She said, “Here in Geneva, we see absolutely no sign of China’s goodwill. Its promise to help Taiwan join the WHO is merely words. If China really cares about the Taiwanese people’s health, it should show its concern through actions.”
She added, “What we see here is that China is blocking our WHO bid in all aspects. We feel very disappointed and find it hard to trust China.”
“We Taiwanese are not fools. If China really cares about us, it should let us join the WHO as an observer right now,” she said.
- Peter Westmore