- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

Taiwan's health minister says the island will fight for its admission into the World Health Organization despite opposition from Beijing as 23 million Taiwanese deserve full access to world health programs and medical data.
In an interview with The Washington Times on Friday, Lee Ming-liang said that Taiwan is qualified to join the WHO and cited its history of aiding other nations. In the past seven years, Taiwan has contributed $100 million to 78 countries, he said.
Mr. Lee also referred to Taiwan's health record, including eradicating Hepatitis A and running a national health program that receives an approval rating of more than 70 percent from the people.
Taipei has failed five attempts to join WHO because China considers Taiwan part of its territory and opposes the self-governing island's joining the U.N. agency.
The United States generally supports Beijing's position. However, in December 1999, President Clinton signed two bills that referred to Taiwan's participation in WHO, drawing protests from Beijing. In April 2001, the House of Representatives approved a resolution calling for the United States to support Taiwan's bid to participate as an observer at WHO.
Xi Feng, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said Friday, "We oppose Taiwan's attempt" because "WHO is an international organization for sovereign states."
Mr. Lee said Taiwan is not "challenging the one-China policy" and is trying to join the agency as a non-sovereign member or as an observer. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Vatican and the Palestine Liberation Organization have observer status at the WHO's governing body.
But the Chinese spokesman said that even such a status for Taiwan "is not acceptable."
Mr. Lee said WHO membership is vital to Taiwan since it will open access to the latest information on epidemics and diseases. While Taiwan has been able to indirectly acquire health information, Mr. Lee said it is often "too late and incomplete."
For instance, he said, the death of 80 children from the outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease in 1998 could have been prevented with early-warning reports. Instead "we had to fight it alone," he said.
China constantly campaigns at various forums to reduce Taiwan's international status. Today, Taiwan is recognized by only 28 countries. The United States withdrew its recognition in 1979 in favor of the one-China principle.
"The international community will stand with China," Mr. Feng said, and "their (Taiwan's) effort will fail."
Mr. Lee suggested that it is irrational for China to block Taiwan's entry into the WHO because China could use Taiwanese help in disease prevention and control.
Describing the poor state of China's health programs, Mr. Lee said, the "statistics from [the Chinese] government are useless" and "under-reported." At least a million Chinese are estimated to have the AIDS virus, but China still refuses to ask for help, he said.


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