By Martin Banks - 21st May 2008
Geneva: Taiwan’s health minister Sheng-Mou Hou has pledged to press ahead with his country’s efforts to join the international health community.
It follows a controversial decision by the WHO to reject Taiwan’s application for membership and an alternative proposal for observership of the WHA.
Several MEPs, including Edward McMillan-Scott, a vice president of parliament, Graham Watson, ALDE group leader, and Dutch Liberal deputy Jules Maaten, recently spoke out in support of Taiwan’s WHO application.
At a news conference after the decision, the minister said he was upset at the verdict but insisted Taiwan refused to be deterred from making a similar request next year.
Earlier, a 100-strong contingent of Taiwanese-based health professionals, including doctors and nurses, joined forces with NGO representatives from the island in distributing leaflets in Geneva and protested outside the UN headquarters, the venue for the 61st assembly.
They pointed to the fact that states such as Palestine, Malta and Liechtenstein, as well as organisations like the International Red Cross had been afforded observer status in the WHO.
Their anger was compounded by an unsigned letter circulated to people waiting to collect public badges to the assembly stating that as the UN did not recognize Taiwan, access to the assembly could only be allowed to “those citizens of the People’s Republic of China.”
There was also uproar at the continued refusal of the UN office in Geneva to issue press credentials to Taiwanese journalists wanting to cover the WHA.
This year marks a historic landmark for the WHO as the Geneva based organisation celebrates its 60th anniversary and this year’s WHA was said to have attracted a record number of delegates from all over the world.
China’s health minister Chen Zhu praised Taiwan for its efforts in helping victims of his country’s recent earthquake but said that Taiwan’s health needs were “satisfactorily” met by Beijing, a position endorsed by the Pakistan representative, who described the rejection of Taiwan’s application as prudent and insisted that Taiwan was an “indivisible” part of China.
Two countries, Gambia and Palau, spoke in support of Taiwan, saying it had an “undeniable right” to join the WHO but, despite their powerful protestations, the plenary accepted a recommendation rejecting Taiwan’s bid from the WHA general committee.
Later senior Taiwanese health officials mounted a vigorous defence of their country’s right to join such organisations and pledged their determination to continue their campaign.
David Lin, director general of international organisations at the Taiwanese foreign affairs ministry, said that, despite the latest setback, “a certain momentum” was gathering pace.
He said, “One would hope that, in light of the substantial humanitarian aid provided by Taiwan for China’s earthquake victims, China would display more goodwill towards us.
“But, despite this, we will continue with our efforts in order to safeguard the health rights of Taiwan’s population.”
His comments were echoed by Shuw-Min Wu, president of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan, who also expressed frustration at the EU for its continued support of the so-called One China Policy.
He said, “When it comes to the EU, every time it is the same, we run into a brick wall. Having said that, I believe the EU and its 27 member states understand our position. Increasingly, I detect more support from EU members and it is up to us to mobilise this support in the future.”
Shen Lu Shun, Taiwan’s ambassador to Geneva, said that although he was unable to quantify it, there was ‘undoubtedly a certain momentum” gathering in favour of Taiwan.
“Our campaign is getting stronger and stronger and we have just got to keep this going because it is clearly widely accepted that we have a strong case.”