Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Taiwan’s absence at WHO is unjust, EU diplomat says

The Taipei Times - 10 April 2008

A leading member of the European Parliament said on Tuesday that the exclusion of Taiwan from the WHO was the result of entirely unjustified and counterproductive heavy-handed tactics by China. Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Tannock made the remarks at the 60th anniversary of the WHO and World Health Day to urge member states to welcome Taiwan as a full member of the global organization.

Tannock was reported as saying that Beijing was pursuing a vigorous campaign at the UN and its agencies to block Taiwan’s quest for membership despite the fact that Taiwan, a flourishing democracy, has been a de facto independent state for decades. The Republic of China was one of the founding members of the health organization. However, the country was asked to leave the WHO in 1972 after relinquishing its UN seat in 1971. Taiwan has bid for World Health Assembly (WHA) observer status for 11 consecutive years, but the attempts were repeatedly foiled by Beijing’s obstruction.

Last year, the country applied to become a full WHO member, but the UN Secretariat office rejected the application without the document ever being reviewed. Chinese Ambassador to Geneva Li Baodong recently sent a letter to all WHO member states asking them to boycott all Taiwan-related issues that might arise during the WHA meeting next month. Tannock said the West was guilty, as it was prepared to acquiesce to Chinas economic lure in the face of pressure. It is shameful that we are so ready to welcome Kosovo as an independent state, that we are up in arms over Tibet, but we remain silent about Taiwan. Keeping Taiwan out of the WHO makes no sense at all, he said.

As a medical doctor, Tannock said, he was deeply disappointed by political pettiness getting in the way of saving lives, as political boundaries are irrelevant when it comes to diseases. Taiwan has a vital role to play regionally in dealing with the bird flu threat in the same way that it dealt successfully with SARS, he said. Beijing, he said, should take the conciliatory approach as proposed by president-elect Ma Ying-jeou by making a gesture to ease tension, such as allowing Taiwan to join the WHO. He said, however, that as long as Margaret Chan remains the director-general of the WHO, Taiwan’s alienation was unlikely to be alleviated anytime soon.