- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

By all accounts President Bush had a successful trip to China. He made no egregious concessions, as Bill
Clinton did on his voyages to the Middle Kingdom, and the Chinese were downright nice to Mr. Bush.
Jiang Zemin, who will be retiring as supreme leader later this year, is eager to improve relations. China's rulers want stable relations while they go about the tricky business of picking a new dictator. The leading cadres will be too busy jockeying for power to bother with international problems.
This honeymoon in U.S.-Chinese relations presents an opportunity to do some things that are morally right. One example is helping Taiwan become affiliated with the World Health Organization, which is supposed to promote better health for all people. The WHO constitution says that "the enjoyment of the highest standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being." But that apparently does not apply to the 23 million people living on Taiwan.
WHO tries to be universal, with 191 member states plus observers trying to prevent the spread of disease and improve global health. The organization grants observer status to all kinds of groups, ranging from Rotary International and the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Knights of Malta. But not Taiwan. Universal good health is hardly a political issue, but China has made it one by blocking Taiwan's participation.
As the Republic of China, Taiwan was an original member of WHO from 1948 to 1972, when its seat was given to the mainland government. Over the next 30 years Taiwan became a true democracy with a strong free market economy, while the mainland continued to suffer under an unelected and oppressive regime.
Taiwan's health minister, trained at Rutgers University School of Medicine, says the lack of association with WHO handicaps his country's efforts to deal with outbreaks of disease. Four years ago, an epidemic of enterovirus type 71 raged through the island, killing 80 children before it was brought under control. Geneva-based officials, who are supposed to cooperate in fighting the spread of disease on a global basis, refused to help because Taiwan was not associated with WHO.
With more people than three-fourths of WHO's member states and one of the world's best-educated and technically competent populations, Taiwan has something to offer the rest of the world. The island enjoys a high life expectancy, has eradicated major infectious diseases and was first in the world to provide its children free hepatitis B vaccinations. Taiwan spends millions every year on health programs in underdeveloped countries.
Five times Taiwan has applied to re-affiliate with WHO, not as a member but as an observer. Five times Taiwan has been rejected. Political pressure from Beijing, with the quiet acquiescence of the United States and other WHO members, has kept Taiwan out.
Congress urged the Clinton administration to promote Taiwan's membership in WHO and passed a bill to that effect in December 1999. Mr. Clinton signed it into law, but then did nothing. It was assumed Mr. Bush would do more for the island nation he has promised to defend, but at the WHO meeting in May the United States again did nothing and Taiwan's application again was rejected.
Then last December, the House of Representatives passed a new bill requiring the secretary of state to devise a plan to obtain observer status for Taiwan at the WHO meeting this May. A similar bill is pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In January, Richard Bush, chairman of the American Institute on Taiwan, said, "We do support Taiwan's participation in the work of international organizations like WHO."
In February, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said, "We do think Taiwan would be able to contribute and benefit from the work of WHO," adding that the United States is consulting closely leading up to the WHO meeting in May. But, he noted, granting observer status to Taiwan is not supported by many members of WHO.
But does the United States follow or lead? A strong U.S. position in support of Taiwan might encourage fence sitters and nonsupporters to do the right thing. During the Clinton years, trade with China was all important. Many thought things would change with Mr. Bush, who wrote to Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican, a principal sponsor of the 1999 legislation, that we "should find opportunities for Taiwan's voice to be heard in international organizations."
Well, Mr. President, you don't need to look far. Taiwan was recently admitted to the World Trade Organization as "Chinese Taipei." It should be admitted to WHO under the same formula, or at least be made an observer. It is time to direct your team to make an aggressive public effort to get Taiwan into WHO at the May meeting and make good health truly universal.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.


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