Welcome Taiwan to the WHA!
— a calm and neutral comment
Recently the World Health Assembly announced that Taiwan will be admitted into the organization as an observer under the title “Chinese Taipei.” As a citizen of Taiwan (officially the Republic of China, and in the subsequent content I will alternatively use either R.O.C. or Taiwan) I am extremely excited about such invitation, and this is especially meaningful to us when now the world is facing a new pandemic.
As many would know, the R.O.C. has always been eager to return to or to participate meaningfully in all international organizations for decades since it withdrew from the United Nations in 1971. However in the previous 8 years under former President Chen Shui-Bian and his aggressive pro-independence Democratic Progress Party (DPP) administration, the cross-strait relation was in a stalemate and there was practically no constructive dialogues between Taipei and Beijing. Such harsh situation first reached a climax when the outbreak of SARS, both Taiwan and China were serious victims of that disease, yet during the crisis the Chinese Communist regime rejected any involvement of Taiwan in relevant WHO meetings, also blocked essential information on the pandemic for Taiwan. Accompanied by even more harsh and cold-blood comments from Chinese officials, the public in the nearly helpless and isolated Taiwan was upset by China’s hostile gesture. And the rest of A-Bian’s term, we saw more difficult times in cross-strait relations.
Yet when now the world is fighting with a new flu altogether, there is also a new condition between Taipei and Beijing. Taiwan under pro-unification Kuomingtang (KMT) President Ma Ying-Jeou has accelerated the negotiation with China on a wide range of issues from economic cooperation, promoting tourism, and of course, Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. President Ma’s foreign policy is based on “外交休兵”, or in English, cease fire in the diplomatic arena, which suggests that both Taiwan and China won’t work on luring countries currently maintaining official diplomatic relations with the other side, and such policy has proven to be effective (at least as of this moment). The improvement of cross-strait relations contributes to the admission of Taiwan into WHA, which Taiwan needs most urgently and is the most important test for Ma’s foreign policy. President Ma puts cross-strait relations above foreign affairs, which even the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the R.O.C. Mr. Ou Hong-Lian admitted that publicly. Yet from my point of view, as a normal independent nation (the Republic of China is de facto independent from the People’s Republic of China yet somehow not deemed as a de jure independent state due to the lack of abundant official diplomatic recognition), Taiwan of course should put foreign affairs above the relation with any other fellow member of the international community, and the cross-strait relations should only be a part, albeit it surely would be an important one, even the most important, in Taiwan’s overall foreign affairs.
After a series of debate and careful negotiation, we see Taiwan and China finally reached a consensus for Taiwan’s participation in the WHA under Chinese Taipei, which is acceptable and does not harm Taiwan’s important national interests (although for the R.O.C. its national sovereignty is surely damaged for it is not allowed to retain its official title). Yet it is somehow doubtful on Taiwan’s other efforts to either “rejoin” or “meaningfully participate” in other international organizations. For example, speaking of Taiwan’s attempts to participate in the UN, it is a sensitive issue for the P.R.C. and with a very nostalgic sentiment for the R.O.C. The Republic of China was a founding member of the UN and was one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, yet in 1971 all of it just changed in favor of the PRC. Now that Beijing would not likely to let Taipei be a full member of any international organization whose membership is limited to “sovereign states,” whether Taiwan will still be admitted to other coveted organizations or be offered observer status is not at all cheerful from my perspective. WHA is less political when compared with the UN, which nevertheless also invites observers in its general assembly, and most of all, Taiwan has demanded observer status even more strongly after being harmed by China in the SARS crisis, and Taiwan’s efforts are supported by friendly US, Japan, and the EU. Therefore Beijing, always seeking to make Taiwan public feel more positive towards itself, may think that WHA is a better option to offer to Taiwan as part of the “exchange gifts” for the improvement of the cross-strait relations. However, when there are rumors that a few Taiwan’s friends are seeking to establish diplomatic relationship with China, it is really unlikely for Taipei to persuade its friends not to embrace a huge market and of course also huge foreign aid likely to be provided by the PRC or for Beijing to continuously dissuade others from befriending it. Sooner or later those who seek to establish an embassy in Beijing will seal their deals anyway, and on the other hand Taiwan’s involvement in other international organizations might still be blocked or limited by China, for example PRC won’t open the path for the R.O.C. to be a full member of the WHO, so from my perspective (i.e. a calm citizen of Taiwan), receiving an observer status to WHA is worthy of our praise and brief celebration, yet we should not look forward too eagerly on other victory in the main battlefield of diplomacy in the struggles between Taiwan and China.