“China” was one of the founding members of the United Nations. Whatever you mean by “China,” anyway. When the UN was formed in 1945 there was only one China. After the Revolution of 1949 the losing side retreated to Taiwan and claimed the title of Republic of China. The US and its allies stupidly continued to recognize them as “China” to keep another communist country from the Security Council, but by 1971 the absurdity of denying mot Chinese a seat in the UN was patently obvious and the People’s Republic of China took the place of the ROC. At the time I was strongly in favor of this and I still think it the only logical and reasonable option. But the two continue to squabble about which one represents “China.” It is tiresome. Meanwhile there are 23 million people on Taiwan without representation or voice in critical UN agencies, like WHO, and WHO’s Secretariat has once again rejected Taiwan’s bid for membership because of objections from Beijing. The excuse is that Taiwan isn’t a sovereign state.
Maybe that’s true. I don’t really care. While the two macho pygmies of international relations continue to argue about whose sovereignty is longer, WHO can’t have effective relationships with health professionals in a community of 23 million people near one of the globe’s great geographic viral incubators. The battle is being joined in the most inappropriate terms, naturally:
Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian on Sunday protested against the World Health Organisation’s rejection of the island’s latest bid for membership which had angered rival Beijing.
Chen on April 11 wrote to WHO director general Margaret Chan but the WHO secretariat insisted the island was not a sovereign state and not eligible to apply for membership of the international body.
“Taiwan is a independent sovereign state and has the right to join the WHO. Neither the WHO nor its director general have the right to deny or strip the human rights of 23 million people,” Chen told a seminar on the island’s WHO efforts.
“The WHO secretariat has no right to unilaterally decide if Taiwan is a sovereign state or if it is entitled to apply for WHO membership,” Chen said.
“Therefore, I, on behalf of the government and 23 million people, am filing the strongest protest to the WHO secretariat.” (ChannelNewsAsia)
Whether China is a sovereign state is different than whether 23 million people should be brought under the umbrella of the international health system. It would seem reasonable to say (not that reason has much to do with this) that Taiwan can have WHO observer status without making a judgment whether it is a sovereign state. Maybe there is some legal nicety here, but legal niceties are violated all the time. The only two parties that care about who is called what are the two idiot governments squabbling over this. Those that have a stake in global public health include all the rest of us, too. We are better off including Taiwan in the international health system. It is a sign of weakness that the PRC is so threatened by this symbolic issue.
WHO Director Chan could and should cut the Gordian Knot by working with the upcoming World Health Assembly (WHO’s governing body) to grant Taiwan observer status, thus allowing them to participate in the international health community. She doesn’t have to call for this publicly. She can do it quietly, by not actively opposing it or opposing it in a pro forma fashion.
She could. If she had the courage.