Archive for May 18th, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WHO Name Game: Words Speaking Aloud

Did it help Beijing that the WHO’s Secretary-General, Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) is a Chinese – more specifically, Hong Kong, citizen? Or is this just the WHO’s policy?

While Taiwan’s health minister is currently sitting behind a “Chinese Taipei” sign in the observers’ section at the World Health Assembly’s conference in Geneva (Chinese Taipei has been the way to address Taiwan, given that Chinese pressure has kept international organizations and governments from addressing Taiwan more formally), the WHO has “not wavered on its position that Taiwan is a part of China despite extending an invitation to the Department of Health under the designation ‘Chinese Taipei'”, according to the Taipei Times. Taiwan has to be referred to as a “province of China”, according to an internal, but no longer unknown, WHO memo.

The apparent deterioration in the way Taiwan is treated by the WHO has been interpreted as a “slap in the face” of the country’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, who has based much of his economic policy on “improved” relations with Beijing.

According to Taiwan’s news agency CNA, Taiwan had previously been referred to as “Chinese Taipei”, even though it’s contacts hadn’t exceeded directorial level prior to Ma’s presidency.

But it seems questionable if higher-level contacts should be worth the additional degradation of Taiwan’s name. To make its current “higher-level” contacts useful at all, Taiwan should try to push for more respectful treatment on the international stage. It might be tempting for the Ma administration to act as vocally as did their predecessors of the  Chen Shui-bian administration, but they should resist that temptation, no matter how much the oppositional DPP will capitalize on the government’s loss of face. Backstage efforts should work more efficiently than operas, and much of Taiwan’s public will understand that.

The good news within the bad is that Ma’s KMT can no longer sustain existing illusions within Taiwan that relations with China had really “improved”. The KMT shouldn’t even try to return to that narrative.  Beijing’s actions alone have spoken louder than words through all of Chen’s and Ma’s presidencies – and now, the words used at the WHO are speaking aloud, too.


“A Model of Participation”, Focus Taiwan, May 18, 2011


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