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Taiwan Again Seeking WHO Observer Status

Senior Taiwanese Officials say global efforts to halt the spread of deadly, newly emerging diseases are being put at risk because of Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Organization. The Officials made these observations on the eve of the annual World Health Assembly which will review Taiwan's request for observer status.

For the ninth year in a row, Taiwan will try to persuade the World Health Organization's 192 members to grant it observer status. China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, has on all of these occasions blocked the island's application.

Taiwan's Minister of Health, Hou Sheng-mou, says the world is committing a serious error in keeping Taiwan diplomatically isolated. He says everyone has to work together to combat diseases such as SARS, which affected one-quarter of the world's population two-years ago.

He said the world has a better chance of preventing a potential influenza pandemic linked to avian flu if Taiwan is allowed to participate in the WHO. "Everyone knows that the germ, the virus, they have no respect of any national boundary. And, if you cannot include everyone on this earth, everywhere on this earth, than you will have a leakage in infectious disease control," he said.

If that happens, Mr. Hou warns that Taiwan's 23-million people will not be the only ones to suffer. He says millions of other people around the world also will be threatened by deadly diseases.

The United States and Japan strongly support Taiwan's membership in WHO. But, citing the one-China policy, Beijing continues to oppose Taiwan's participation in WHO and other international organizations. It even opposed Taiwan's application to the WHO in 2003, at the height of the SARS epidemic that killed 800 people, mainly in Asia.

Taiwan's Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Ying-mao Kau calls such behavior irrational. He says Taiwan privately receives strong support for its position from members of the European Union. But, publicly, he says this support evaporates.

He said he finds it difficult to understand how the European Union can reconcile its intellectual and professional judgment with, what he calls, its political hypocrisy. "And, that is the reason why people in Taiwan really become very frustrated. While we have moral, professional support from the world, but the political reality is kowtowing to China's political pressure. And, this is really a very unfortunate thing for us," he said.

To blunt China's opposition, Taiwan has proposed joining WHO as a health territory, not a country. This is a model it used when it was allowed to join the World Trade Organization in 2001.

The same model is used by such WHO members as the Palestine Authority, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.