- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

After campaigning unsuccessfully many years for observer status, Taiwan now seeks full membership in the World Health Organization (WHO).

When WHO’s governing assembly meets in Geneva tomorrow, Taiwan will seek to formalize its relations with WHO and thereby exponentially increase its health-related cooperation with other countries and international organizations and its ability to contribute quickly and directly to disease control and other efforts on local, regional and global bases.

The case for admitting Taiwan to WHO could not be clearer:

(1) Taiwan has the resources to become a top-tier participant. In the last 10 years, its public and private sectors have provided more than $450 million in health care and humanitarian aid to more than 90 countries. Today, with one of the world’s 20 largest economies, it is willing and able to do much more.

(2) Taiwanese doctors and other health-care professionals have the skills to provide services to the widest possible range of beneficiaries. At home, their dedication and implementation of a superior health-care system has led the Economist to rank Taiwan the second-healthiest nation in the world.

(3) Taiwan is uniquely placed to address health threats emanating from China and elsewhere in Asia. Having suffered from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic, which began in China in 2003, Taiwan worked closely and directly with other Asian countries in 2005 to prevent the spread of the bird flu (H5N1 influenza). Taiwan’s full-fledged campaign made it the only East Asian country to escape this pandemic.

Unfortunately, Taiwan’s efforts to increase its health-care outreach and its effectiveness through cooperation with WHO are actively and constantly thwarted by communist China and WHO itself. Beijing, an authoritarian regime, vigorously opposes every attempt by Taiwan, a vibrant democracy, to participate in international organizations. WHO is governed U.N.-style: This means political considerations sometimes trump its avowed mission, rational decisionmaking is sometimes lacking and doors that should be wide open are sealed shut.

An example of how this translates into action and inaction is WHO’s refusal to allow Taiwan to take part in conferences on the bird flu. In the critical initial stages of the SARS outbreak, WHO and China refused to share information with Taiwan, thereby putting Taiwan and many other countries at greater risk. Recently, WHO signed a secret memorandum with China requiring that WHO obtain China’s permission before sharing information with Taiwan or inviting Taiwanese doctors or officials to conferences.

At the same time, WHO has extended membership or observer status to such nonstates as the Cook Islands, the Sovereign Order of Malta, the Vatican and even the Palestine Liberation Organization. Yet Taiwan, which is genuinely positioned to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars and serve as a barrier to the spread of sudden disease outbreaks, remains locked out even as it applies for WHO membership as “Taiwan” rather than under its official name “Republic of China” — which is rejected by Beijing and in standard international parlance under the “one China, two political systems” doctrine.

I have been a supporter of Taiwan throughout my career. When President Jimmy Carter prepared to terminate relations with Taiwan and establish full diplomatic relations with Beijing, I introduced a Senate resolution, which passed by a 97-0 vote, to require the administration to consult with Congress before changing our country’s relations with Taiwan. Based on the mandate of this resolution, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), which has guided our countries’ bilateral relations — and provided significantly for Taiwan’s defense — ever since.

During my service as minority and majority leader in the Senate, I supported many measures to provide tangible political, economic and military assistance to Taiwan. Today, as registered representatives of Taiwan in the U.S., my law firm and I continue to seek greater support for this important, democratic U.S. ally.

In my view, the next major step in our relations — and in Taiwan’s relations with the world — is a major diplomatic push to support Taiwan’s WHO candidacy.

Admitting Taiwan to WHO is not only in Taiwan’s interests and those of other countries that support disease eradication and prevention and improved health care standards; it is also directly in U.S. interests. There are 170,000 Americans resident in Taiwan, and our country provides 22 percent of WHO’s budget.

I appeal to President Bush and his representatives to WHO, as well as those of the world’s other democracies, to stand up to the WHO’s bureaucracy and the regime in Beijing by voting to grant full WHO membership to Taiwan.

The world is a dangerous enough place already. We should not allow political obstructions to tie Taiwan’s hands and deny those in need the benefit of its health-care talents and economic largess.

Bob Dole is a former Senate majority leader and was the 1996 Republican candidate for president.

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