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Taiwan a victim of Canada's cosying up to China for reasons of trade

April 22, 2009

Inclusion in World Health Organization isn't likely for Taiwan this time
-- any more than it has been in 12 previous attempts to join

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun April 21, 2009

As Taiwan prepares to launch its 13th attempt to become part of the
World Health Organization, Canada finds itself in an awkward position.

The island nation would appreciate Canadian support for its cause. But,
of course, Taiwan has long been claimed by China as a constituent part.

Since Taipei began applying in 1997 to participate in the global health
body, Beijing -- a member since 1972 -- has turned thumbs down.

While Ottawa supports "meaningful participation" by Taiwan in WHO, the
feds are reluctant to step forward too far in lending moral support to
the democratic country of 23 million.

Such a gesture would offend Beijing when Canada, in its own economic
interest, is trying to build better rapport with China.

Taiwan, rather than pursuing full WHO membership, is seeking a seat only
as an observer when the WHO's secretariat, the World Health Assembly,
next convenes, May 18 to 27 in Geneva.

In a just-released press statement, Taiwan's government argues its
location in Asia makes it a crossroads for tourists and business
travelers. It's also a transit point for migratory birds.

Taiwan maintains nearby China is "a hothouse of avian flu and a host of
other communicable diseases," and in the past, China hasn't always been
forthcoming about virus outbreaks.

The press statement labels health care in China "backward." It goes on:
"Having Taiwan riding at the tail end of China when it comes to health
care is absurd."

WHO membership not only would put Taiwan in the loop when it comes to
receiving global health data, it would enable the country to join
international medical projects.

Brian Su, a Vancouver representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural
Office, says: "Despite the fact that health security should be the main
concern here, political interference often gets in the way."

He believes Taiwan's latest request to become a WHO observer -- similar
to status accorded the Holy See, the Red Cross, Malta and the
Palestinian Authority -- will be a litmus test: "Whether it succeeds or
not will serve as a barometer of a less belligerent relationship across
the Taiwan Strait."

A thaw between the two nations began a year ago with election of a
China-friendly government in Taipei. Since then, Taipei and Beijing have
approved direct passenger and cargo flights and postal links for the
first time in 60 years. Some 500 Chinese tourists a day arrive in Taipei.

China is dangling an "economic cooperation pact ... to help the island
through the economic downturn," according to the China Daily.

The Taipei government in March turned down a proposed visit by the
Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, knowing the event would upset Beijing --
which claims Tibet as part of China.

Beijing is even offering to support Taiwan's bid for WHO observer status
-- but only under the name "Chinese Taipei."

And there's the rub. Taiwan wants an observer status that recognizes its
sovereignty. No matter how China-friendly their government, a majority
of Taiwan's population continues to tell pollsters they see themselves
as being Taiwanese, not Chinese.

Taiwan has distinct political, legal and taxation systems and its own
public health care. Canada at this point is urging Taiwan, China and the
WHA secretariat to knock heads in the health interests of the Taiwanese.

It's not hard to understand why Canada, eager to make its way onto
China's list of approved tourism destinations and anxious for more
robust trade, would wish to sidestep this hornets' nest.
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