Time running out for health assembly invite

The China Post news staff

With around a month to go to the World Health Organization’s late-May World Health Assembly, Taiwan still anxiously awaits an invitation. Foreign Minister David Lee said he still remained optimistic that the country would be invited to this year’s assembly in Geneva on May 22–31.

While the WHA normally begins sending letters of invitation in March, Lee said it was too soon to tell whether Taiwan would receive one, adding the situation would become clearer by the end of April.

Last year Taiwan received its invitation at the late date of May 9, only two weeks before the event’s opening. This was presumably done to send a message to the incoming pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that it should continue the China-friendly approach of its Kuomintang predecessor. During the previous KMT administration, in part due to thawing cross-strait ties, Taiwan began attending the WHA as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei.”

Despite the DPP winning both the presidency and a majority in the Legislature in 2016, Taiwan still received an invite. However, in a first, the WHO cited United Nations Resolution No. 2758 and the “One China” principle in its invitation. Resolution No. 2758, passed on Oct. 25, 1971, recognized the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations” and expelled the representatives of the Republic of China. The unprecedented mention of the “One China” principle by the WHO in its letter sparked debate in Taiwan over whether the government should send a delegation. The then-newly elected DPP ultimately decided to send Health Minister Lin Tsou-yen (林奏延) — but only after sending a letter to the WHO protesting the mention of the “One China” principle. This year with a new minister, however, the hope for Taiwan’s participation is at an all-time low.

So what is Taiwan’s plan this year? So far we have not seen a clear picture, other than government officials reiterating that they are soliciting support from the international community and calling on Beijing not to push for the exclusion of Taiwan. It is understandable, given cross-strait tensions, that the government may be enacting some behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvers to make Taiwan’s attendance possible. Whatever the government has been doing, it is not working. We have failed to see major world powers that used to support our WHA participation issue similar pleas as they did during KMT administration. During U.S. Health Secretary Tom Price’s confirmation hearing this January, we also failed to see any senator ask Price as to the U.S.’ attitude toward Taiwan’s attendance at the WHA. The move has been criticized by lawmakers who said this showed a serious lac of judgement on the part of the foreign ministry and Taiwan’s representative office in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has yet to make public its view on Taiwan’s participation. Barack Obama’s administration had repeatedly voiced their strong support. To counteract increased Chinese pressure, the government needs to jolt into itself into action if it is to have any chance of ever again finding itself invited to the WHO’s summit.