The last time Taiwan tried to apply for observer status in the WHO, China slammed it down. When the SARS crisis arose and China offered Taiwan help, Taiwan denied and declined.
That was 2003, when President Chen of the DPP still governed Taiwan.
Fast forward now six years – how things have changed!
Last week, WHO officially invited Taiwan to attend this year’s assembly meeting under observer status. According to xinhua,
BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) — The World Health Organization (WHO) has invited health authorities in Taiwan to attend the 62nd World Health Assembly (WHA) with observer status, China’s Health Ministry confirmed Wednesday.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan sent an invitation to the Taiwan health authorities, asking that they attend the assembly from May 18 to 27 as observers, according to a statement from the ministry.
“Such an arrangement shows our goodwill to achieve practical benefits for Taiwan people and indicates our sincerity to promote peaceful development of cross-Strait relations,” said Mao Qun’an, spokesman of the Health Ministry.
The spokesman said the mainland and Taiwan had recently held talks and negotiations regarding Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, but he did not provide any details.
Mao said the mainland had always been concerned about the well-being of the Taiwan people and their desire to take part in WHO activities.
He said the mainland supported Taiwan medical experts’ participation in international health technology exchanges and acquisitions of information from the WHO.
He said the proper settlement of Taiwan’s participation in the WHA would promote cross-Strait health exchanges and cooperation and increase mutual understanding for the peaceful development of the relationship between the two sides.
Chiu Wen-Hsiang, head of the Health Department of Taipei City Government said attendance of the WHA had been desired by Taiwan medical and public health sectors for many years.
Cross-Strait exchanges in the medical and health care sectors had never ceased, and Taiwan’s participation in the WHA as an observer would boost exchanges and cooperation of the medical and health care sectors, he said.
The move would enable the two sides to better prevent and treat epidemics and diseases, he said.
“At a time when the world is threatened by swine flu, this giant step forward will enable Taiwan to have easier access to relevant materials and information from the WHO, so as to better protect the health care rights and interests of the people in Taiwan.” he said.
Mainland analysts have hailed Taiwan’s participation in the WHA as a gesture of goodwill and sincerity by the Chinese mainland.
Rao Geping, professor of law at Peking University, said that without the consent of the Chinese mainland and its support, it would be impossible for Taiwan to attend this year’s WHA.
“This could be an important evidence that cross-Strait relations have made tremendous progress, and it is the latest sign that cross-Strait relations will continue to develop in a peaceful manner,” he said.
So Ka-hong, a political scientist at Kaohsiung, said international space has always been a concern for people in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s participation in the WHA as an observer fully proves that only by relying on the basis of the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and steadily accumulated mutual trust of both sides can interaction between Taiwan and the outside be expanded, he said.
On Dec. 31, 2008, when commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Chinese mainland’s “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan”, President Hu Jintao offered proposals to promote the peaceful development of relations.
Hu said the mainland was willing to discuss with Taiwan “proper and reasonable arrangements” for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, as long as such activities did not create a scenario of “two Chinas” or “one China and one Taiwan.”
The WHA is the supreme decision-making body for the WHO. It is held each year in May in Geneva, attended by delegates from all 193 members.
This is great news indeed! Something like this could never have happened under ex-Pres. Chen. This is a sign that economic engagements promoted by both sides of the strait (see for examples this article or this article) is leading not just to tighter economic, social, and cultural integration, but also genuine political confidence on both sides of the strait.
In an interview at the presidential palace in Taipei on Feb. 12, Mr. Ma was mostly conciliatory toward Beijing but emphatic that Taiwan’s international space be protected.
“There is a clear link between cross-strait relations and our international space,” he said then. “We’re not asking for recognition; we only want room to breathe.”
This is understandable. I don’t think Mainland nationalists should worry too much. Even a die-hard Chinese nationalist like me realizes that there are situations where the Taiwanese government in serving its citizens may want to work with International organizations. Of course, with respect to the WHO, I would prefer that Taiwan simply works under the framework of the Mainland’s WHO organization, but I also understand that until the political situation is completely worked out across the strait – many people in Taiwan would be uncomfortable with such an arrangements. So for now, an arrangement like this will have to do.
I really think the CCP deserves a lot of credit for allowing Taiwan to join the WHO even as only an observer. There are genuine real risks, to be sure. If Taiwan’s electorate should boggle up and elect some incompetent like Chen again, that person may want to distort this event into some sort of precedence for Taiwanese sovereignty.
But rather than speculate the worst, I prefer to simply take this moment to celebrate!
The economies of both Mainland and Taiwan are holding up much better than anticipated. The pace of economic and cultural integration (see for example this article) between the two sides are growing to unprecedented levels. The political trust between the two sides have matured to a point worthy of a congratulatory toast.
So to both my birthplace Taiwan and to the Mainland, Cheers to all!
In addition – here is a toast to even better days ahead! 🙂