Do They really want to join the WHO?
China Times editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
April 17, 2007
People on Taiwan long to join the World Health Organization and be readmitted to the United Nations and other international organizations. But if we treat these goals as election tools, if we allow campaign considerations to outweigh all else, if we ignore reality, these goals will become even more remote and even less attainable.
Our government's strategy for gaining access to World Health Organization (WHO) activities in the past was to tackle the easiest problems first, such as seeking World Health Assembly (WHA) observer status. The fight against disease affects the health and safety of people the world over, and infectious diseases know no national boundaries. The SARS experience showed that Taiwan is an indispensable part of the fight against infectious diseases. That is why Taiwan's request that it not be excluded from the global disease control network received the approval and support of the US, Japan, and the European Union.
But because the World Health Organization is an agency of the United Nations, is impossible for the UN to make exceptions. The PRC has been blocking Taiwan with all their might. They say they have already shared information with Taiwan, that they have attended to the rights and interests of the people of Taiwan, and have indicated they are willing to allow Taiwan to join the PRC delegation. These declarations do not accord with the facts, and attempt to demote Taiwan. We find them unacceptable. Taiwan has tried for ten years, but has not been able to gain membership in either the WHO or the WHA.
Recently the Presidential Office announced that Taiwan has decided to change its strategy. In addition to past efforts to become a WHA observer and to seek meaningful participation in technical conferences, Chen Shui-bian will write directly to WHO Secretary General Margaret Chan, officially applying to become a member nation of the WHO using the name "Taiwan." This means adopting a high profile, refusing to enter through the back door, and knocking directly on the front door of the World Health Organization. But this strategy inspires only skepticism. To become a WHA observer is hard enough. One must negotiate the first hurdle before one can think about the second. Yet Chen wants to leapfrog all of them and be admitted immediately as an official member nation. Getting into the WHA is much less difficult than getting into the WHO. But years of trying have met only with failure. Yet Chen wants to attempt the far more difficult task of getting into the WHO? Does he really imagine this will be easier?
It is true that a skyscraper a thousand feet high starts on the ground floor. Maybe one day a completed building will miraculously appear, replete with a bronze plaque on its cornerstone. Maybe we ought to be more optimistic. Maybe a man's reach should exceed his grasp. But diplomacy and internal affairs are hardly the same thing. Not everything is up to the individual. Therefore one cannot indulge in wishful thinking. One must have a clear understanding of realpolitik. One must play one's cards right and adopt the most effective strategies for achieving one's goals.
The problem is, no matter where one looks, one can see no trump card that will enable us to join the WHA this year. Forget the WHO, for which the entry threshold is even higher. Everyone knows which cards Taiwan holds. Over the years, they have all been played, to absolutely no effect. What makes this year any different?
Not only is this year no different, it is probably even less advantageous to Taiwan's participation. Needless to say, the United Nations recognizes only the PRC. In 2005, the PRC and the WHO signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing that if experts from Taiwan wanted to participate in WHO conferences, they would have to use local names such as "Taipei" and "Kaohsiung." The name "Taiwan" would be changed to "Taiwan, China," clearly indicating that Taiwan is a part of a China. This framework has already limited Taiwan's participation in every way conceivable. One can hardly expect it to enable Taiwan to become an official member nation.
The US is the primary force ensuring Taiwan's security and helping Taiwan obtain more international maneuvering room. But it's time for a reality check. Have US Taiwan relations following the "One Country, Each Side" and the "Terminate the National Unification Council" controversies improved or worsened? Is the US more enthusiastic about supporting Taiwan's participation in international activities, or is it more apathetic?
Taiwan's demands for participation in the WHO have received a great deal of sympathy. The undeniable international reality however is that the mainland economy is rapidly growing, and entrepreneurs the world over are flocking to mainland China. No country is willing to cut itself off from the mainland Chinese market. The PRC leadership's "Great Nation Diplomacy" has had an impact. Under such circumstances, Taiwan can no longer count on receiving much international sympathy.
The Taiwan government has decided to pursue a more difficult goal, in a less advantageous environment, against a stronger rival, with less supportive allies. Its attitude may be admirably defiant, but its methods are wholly irrational. But returning to our original point, whether its methods can be considered reasonable depend on its goals. If truth be told, the target audience for this sort of political gesture is domestic consumption.
First they launched a campaign to "rectify" the names of state-owned enterprises. Then they trumpeted a campaign to join the WHO under the name of "Taiwan," followed in September by a campaign to join the United Nations using the name "Taiwan." When the year end election rolls around, they will illegally "link" the presidential election with a public referendum, possibly one to "rectify" the name of the nation. Applying the name "Taiwan" to any number of pipe dreams consolidates Pan Green support and intensifies ethnic polarization. As long as it contributes to election victories, whether one is able to join the WHO or the UN is beside the point.
Since the only reason for such political gestures is to win votes, the more sensational, the better. Regardless what strategy one adopts, one will never gain entry. So why not stage an extravaganza for domestic consumption? Whenever election time rolls around, the ruling DPP makes all kinds of empty promises and sets all kinds of impossible goals, knowing perfectly they can never be fulfilled.
You want to join the WHO? Fine. You want to be readmitted to to the United Nations? Even better. But don't forget, these are trial balloons floated by a government that knows everything about how to run an election campaign, but nothing about how to enhance public safety or reduce the rising suicide rate. All we can say about these proposals, is "Good luck with that."
Original Chinese below: