- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

At the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva this week, the international community had an opportunity to strike a blow for fairness and common sense. The administrative body of the World Health Organization merely had to grant Taiwan observer status in the WHO. But as has happened so many times in the past, the strong arm of China made that impossible.
The Geneva gathering took place 30 years and three days after Taiwan lost its membership. That disservice to humanity occurred solely for political reasons. The communist regime in Beijing had taken possession of China's United Nations seat. At the time, Taipei also claimed jurisdiction over all China. Thus the Taiwanese lost representation in U.N.-affiliated groups, including the WHO.
Even then, Taiwan's exclusion violated the WHO's core principles. Its constitution states that "the enjoyment of the highest standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition."
The passage of three decades has only magnified the idiocy of Beijing's insistence that Taiwan be denied the right to participate in WHO activities. During this period, Taiwan has evolved into a strong free-market democracy. Its government no longer claims jurisdiction over as much as an acre of the Chinese mainland.
To avoid the political issues of sovereignty and "one China," Taiwan no longer seeks full voting membership in the WHO. Rather it wishes "observer status," a category occupied by such entities as the Holy See, the International Red Cross and the Knights of Malta. In this capacity, Taiwan could share in the research and humanitarian work of the WHO while abstaining from a role in governance. Still, as recently as this week, Beijing has used political muscle to prevent even that from happening.
The human toll is large. Four years ago, for instance, Taiwan suffered a large outbreak of a rare disease that afflicts children, enterovirus 71. The epidemic called for immediate assistance in isolating the precise form of the infection exactly a service at which WHO excels. But Taiwan, denied that instant expertise, got help through less direct channels while 78 youngsters died and some 10,000 were sickened.
When a major earthquake struck the island in 1999, Beijing raised barriers to immediate assistance through any U.N. agency. It also denied overflight rights to aircraft carrying relief supplies, causing time-consuming detours. The death toll of 2,378 would have been smaller if assistance had come faster.
But the most compelling reason for Taiwan's participation is what the island has to give, rather than what it may receive. As it became prosperous and democratic, Taiwan developed a first-class medical establishment that does excellent research and surpasses most Asian neighbors in public health programs. Taiwan is also very generous in sharing expertise as well as other resources with developing countries.
Though Beijing incredibly has sought to raise obstacles, Taiwan has managed to provide more than $100 million in supplies, personnel and cash to 78 countries since 1995. Only one-third of the recipient nations have diplomatic ties with Taiwan; the rest recognize the PRC. Taiwan, which has had notable success in containing the spread of AIDS at home, is helping to fight that scourge in Africa. It trains foreign health workers in family planning and treatment of tuberculosis. It sends disaster relief teams to help victims of earthquakes and floods from Central America to Southeast Asia.
Thanks to Beijing's obsessive desire to keep Taiwan isolated, these and its other contributions to world health will not be shared with the WHO. The World Health Assembly rejected Taiwan again this year, but the issue is still before us. We in Congress have voted repeatedly in support of Taiwan's request to gain observer status. The Bush administration is sympathetic to the cause. The European Parliament has also gone on record in favor of Taiwan. It is time to transform those sentiments into concrete action. The United States should take the lead in the continuing struggle to end 30 years of foolishness.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee.


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