Taiwan: Bush signs act on Taiwan WHO bid
"The United States fully supports the participation of Taiwan in the work of the World Health Organization, including observer status," said President Bush in a statement released on Monday.
Though the signing of the law, S. 2092, would appear to be good news for Taiwan, it comes after the decision-making body of the WHO, the World Health Assembly (WHA), has already again rejected the island's annual bid to obtain WHO observer status. As such, the issue is unlikely to be revisited by the international community again until 2005.
On May 17 at its annual meeting, the WHA General Committee, under pressure from mainland China, threw out a motion put forward by 12 of Taiwan's diplomatic allies inviting the island to join the WHA as an observer.
This year marked the eighth consecutive year that Taiwan's bid for participation in the work of the WHO was denied. Still, the island's health authorities were encouraged by the support of Taiwan's allies, and in particular by the backing given to Taiwan's bid from Washington and Tokyo.
The act authorizes the U.S. secretary of state to seek observer status for Taiwan in the WHO and instructs the U.S. delegation to the WHA to work toward this goal.
Though U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson spoke in favor of Taiwan's bid ahead of the WHA summit, the issue was not put to a vote in the assembly or included on the WHA's agenda for discussion.
Particularly following Beijing's mishandling of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, which resulted in the deaths of 71 people in Taiwan, according to the Government Information Office (GIO), observers are increasingly acknowledging the futility of the mainland's continued opposition to Taiwan's WHO participation.
The U.S. in particular has encouraged the mainland to reach out to the island's people by extending an olive branch to Taiwan over the issue of WHO observer status.
While the U.S. does not want to take a position on Taiwan independence versus unification with the mainland, Washington is keen to find ways to reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
As observer status in the WHO is reserved for non states, Taiwan's
designation as a WHO observer could both provide Taiwan with greater international
space and satisfy the mainland's demands that the international community uphold
a "one China" policy.