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.

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

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4 Responses to “WHO Name Game: Words Speaking Aloud”

  1. If the media coverage is anything to go by (a tall order to rely solely on the media) the Ma administration seems to not know what to do. The initial statements by the administration seemed to downplay the memo, and have become more shrill since the administration started trying to publicly show that it could do something about the situation. Yet the more pices such as this (http://taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2011/05/18/2003503515) come out, the harder it will be for the administration to sell its case. The problem for both Ma and the KMT as a whole is that they cannot simply abandon the narrative that Ma’s diplomatic approach to dealing with China is working. They have invested Ma’s entire reputation in proving that his accommodation of China is the only effective way to manage cross-strait relations. Repudiating the former narrative would mean the repudiation of the KMT’s approach of the last several years. Such changes do not happen overnight and they do not happen when those in power feel they can still keep the ship afloat. I think it would take a major case of outrage on the part of the population, one that would put Ma and the party with a real risk of losing power in the long run, to achieve such a shift. Such outrage is not yet apparent.

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  2. Such outrage is not yet apparent.

    I agree. That’s also why I believe that the Ma administration should talk plainly, but without yelling at either China or at international organizations. The public is real enough to see the quandary any Taiwanese government would find itself in (even if news coverage may create a different impression).

    I can understand that the DPP will make use of this issue to show that there is no cross-strait “improvement”. But it should also encourage the public to evaluate their government’s options in a fair and open-minded way. It may soon be their own turn to deal with pressure from China, and they will depend on fair and open-minded public judgment, too.

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