May 09, 2005

Taiwan Refreshes Bid for World Health Organisation

Taiwan launched a fresh bid to become an observer at the World Health Organisation's (WHO) annual assembly
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TAIPEI, May 10 (Reuters) - Diplomatically isolated Taiwan on Tuesday launched a fresh bid to become an observer at the World Health Organisation's (WHO) annual assembly, but said it was not hopeful of cooperation from rival China.

China, which views the self-ruled island of 23 million as a breakaway province and opposes its participation in most international organisations, has blocked Taiwan's World Health Organisation bid for years -- even during the 2003 SARS crisis.

But although Beijing has told Taiwan opposition leaders very recently that it would try to arrange for Taiwan medical personnel to take part in the World Health Assembly starting on May 16 in Geneva, the foreign ministry said it has not seen any concrete gestures.

"I hope China does not publicly send vague messages while simultaneously block Taiwan's bid to participate in the WHO," Taiwan Foreign Minister Mark Chen told a news conference.

"We wouldn't dare to hold out hope that China will sincerely assist us," he said.

Taiwan, which is only recognised by 25 states in the world, said it was unfair for it to be left out of a global health network that advocated the ideals of "health for all" and "medical services for all people".

Analysts say a successful bid for membership would also be a diplomatic breakthrough in Taiwan's search for world recognition.

Beijing has in the past said Taiwan was not qualified to take part in the WHO as it was a United Nations body whose membership should be limited to sovereign states. Taiwan was ejected from the United Nations in 1971 and replaced by China.

But analysts and Taiwan media say Chinese President Hu Jintao could offer the island a compromise solution for joining the global health body during a meeting with opposition leader James Soong on Thursday, as a show of goodwill to Taiwan people.

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, proposed joining as a "health territory", using a model similar to its membership in the World Trade Organisation. Taiwan was allowed to become an official WTO member as a "separate customs territory".

The island had previously applied to join the WHO as a "health entity", but Beijing rejected even that a formula.

"We are flexible with the name issue. Regardless of how the rest of the world sees us, we are still a sovereign, independent country," Vice Foreign Minister Michael Kau said.

But officials said any formula implying the island was part of China would be unacceptable, such as "Taiwan, China".

Beijing has refused to deal with pro-independence Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian but welcomed Nationalist leader Lien Chan and Soong from the pro-unification People First Party in a bid to woo the opposition and isolate Chen.

Source: Reuters