By Johnny Chiang
Minister of the Government Information Office
Republic of China (Taiwan)
Among the most significant fruits of the “flexible diplomacy” policy of the Republic of China (Taiwan), implemented after Ma Ying-jeou assumed the ROC presidency in 2008, is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) first-ever invitation to Taiwan to attend the 2009 World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting as an official observer. This year, Taiwan has once again received an invitation to attend the WHA meeting. These developments not only demonstrate that détente between Taiwan and mainland China is conducive to expanding Taiwan’s international space but signify a watershed in Taiwan’s progress toward rejoining the mainstream of the international community.
For many years, Taiwan’s participation in international affairs has been severely constrained. It is the hope of our people, therefore, as well as of supporters the world over, that Taiwan can be accepted as a full-fledged member of the global community through our involvement in international organizations. Our participation in the WHA may be regarded as a substantive indicator of mutual flexibility in relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and their future prospects. It is hoped that in the future, participation in the WHA will eventually afford us more opportunities for engagement in global affairs.
Taiwan’s presence at the 2009 WHA meeting, as well as our induction into the International Health Regulations (IHR) framework, have enhanced our involvement in the global health network. Communications between Taiwan and the WHO have become smooth, and our health experts have been invited to attend WHO meetings on the A(H1N1) novel influenza pandemic as well as other technical conferences and training programs. In addition, the WHO has assisted us in obtaining the A(H1N1) virus stock necessary to produce flu vaccine in Taiwan.
To date, however, Taiwan is still unable to participate in the full range of WHO activities. Realizing that goal will require further efforts in the realm of cross-strait and foreign relations. This year, therefore, Taiwan will strive to take part in all levels of WHO meetings and mechanisms in hopes of enhancing the substantive quality of our cooperation in the field of health.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s participation in WHO activities over the past year has enabled the international community to appreciate Taiwan’s high professional standards and capabilities. Moreover, our contributions in the fields of humanitarian relief and promotion of international exchanges over the past several decades have won wide affirmation.
Major issues on this year’s WHA agenda include pandemic influenza preparedness, IHR implementation, food safety, curbing counterfeit medical products and provision of health care services—areas in which Taiwan has considerable experience and can make valuable contributions. Of greater overall significance for Taiwan, its participation in the WHA represents a major step forward into the mainstream of global health cooperation, toward full integration into the world health system.