Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Taiwan steps up campaign to become full WHA member

The Parliament - 23rd May 2012

By Martin Banks

The EU has been urged to back Taiwan´s campaign to become a full member of the World Health Assembly.

Under the long-standing policy, it is official EU policy to back China's claim of sovereignty over its neighbour Taiwan.

A Taiwanese NGO was in Brussels on Wednesday in a bid to press its case for full membership of the WHA, the decision making body of the WHO.

Shiing Jer Twu, a former Taiwan health minister, said this could pave the way for his country to be allowed to take part as a full member in international organisations, such as the World Health Assembly (WHA).

His demand comes as the WHA convened for its annual assembly in Geneva this week. One of the issues being discussed by delegates, including health ministers from member states, was 'universal health care'.

As in the past, Taiwan was allowed to take part only as an 'observer' and not, as Taipei would prefer, as a full member.

This is because Beijing objects to its small neighbour across the Taiwan strait being afforded full membership status.

In addition, official WHA documents circulated at the assembly referred to Taiwan as a "province of China".

Taiwan's position is strongly supported by several MEPs, including Charles Tannock, of the ECR group, ALDE member Edward McMillan-Scott and party colleague Graham Watson.

Twu told this website it was "grossly unfair" that Taiwan was still excluded from certain technical groups of the World Health Organisation and could only attend the WHA once a year as an observer.

The academic, who led a 20-strong NGO, said, "This is something that should concern the whole world, not just Taiwan.

"If there is an international disease outbreak, such as with SARS a few years ago, our exclusion from organisations such as the WHA inhibits our ability to combat such things.

"It means we cannot share potentially very useful health information with other countries, including those in Europe.

"A few years ago, for example, we tried to donate vaccines to UNICEF but they did not accept it because Taiwan is not a WHA member."

During their visit to Brussels, they met EU staff.

Twu said he believes the EU has an "important" role to play in putting pressure on WHA and other international agencies to afford it "meaningful participation" in their activities.