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Friday, May 1, 2009

Taiwan to re-join WHO: 'Bout Time

This might not've made much of a headline in the US, but it was recently reported that Taiwan will probably start re-engaging with the World Health Organization next month. It sounds dull, but there's quite a backstory.

If you recall the SARS outbreaks in 2002 and 2003, the WHO played a critical role in coordinating plans across national boundaries and sharing information between international laboratories. They deserve a lot of credit for the fact that SARS didn't spiral completely out of control. Distressingly, Taiwan was located right next door to the epicenter of the outbreak and had hundreds of cases. But since 1972, when the People's Republic took-over Taiwan's seat at the UN, Taiwan's liason with the WHO ended. Ever since, mainland China was stuck in its hare-brained, counterproductive habit of opposing any kind of contact between Taiwan and the UN. Until now, it seems.

I don't have much information on the decision-making for this (it might've been in the works for a long time) but the timing is notable: Perhaps the Foreign Ministry in Beijing decided that this kind of moronic stance wasn't helpful in the face of an emerging swine flu pandemic. During the SARS outbreak, opposing WHO membership was a huge gift to those who clamored the loudest for Taiwanese independence.

Another factor is that Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has been actively amenable to promoting better relations with Beijing, as illustrated by the start of direct flights between the two countries last summer and a major investment pact signed a few days ago. Taiwan's WHO membership should really be a no-brainer at this point.

So maybe this isn't the kind of news that captures people's attention in the US, but it's a significant thing to take notice of.


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