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Failed WHO bid highlights diplomatic woes

Absence of several allies in voting process reason for concern, says deputy foreign minister

Failed WHO bid highlights diplomatic woes

Although Taiwan claims its failure to enter the World Health Organization on Monday should not be viewed as a complete flop, the absences of four of Taiwan's allies from the vote on a debate over the Taiwan issue might be an indication of the country's growing diplomatic hardship in the future.
Deputy Foreign Minister Yang Tzu-pao (楊子葆) stressed that instead of focusing on the failed bid, Taiwan had successfully achieved its goal of increasing Taiwan's visibility in the international arena with the three-hour debate on Taiwan's admission in the World Health Assembly.
"We knew full well that the bid would be a long shot but we still had to try. Why should we turn our back on a righteous cause just to please the opposition?" Yang said, vowing that the government would persist in its efforts until Taiwan was accepted in the WHO.
The goal this year, he explained, was to raise the WHO member-states' awareness of Taiwan's exclusion from the health body and to increase exposure of the issue.
"Compared to past years, the quality and the quantity of pro-Taiwan statements made by allied countries this year were more substantial and significant," he claimed.
Unlike the past two years and similar to 2004, he pointed out, Taiwan's application to the WHO actually had a chance to be deliberated among member-states during the General Assembly instead of the usual "two-on-two" debate format.
But as the debate dragged on, assembly president Jane Halton of Australia, who appeared to be unsympathetic to Taiwan's bid and irritated by the long discussion, repeatedly asked Taiwan's allies to be terse when speaking.
The three-hour long debate finally ended when the assembly body, by roll call, voted to terminate the discussion by a 148-17 margin.
Although the defeat was expected, it was a shock to many that four of Taiwan's allies, namely the Marshall Islands, Panama, Nicaragua, and St. Lucia were absent during the vote and Costa Rica "accidentally" voted against Taiwan.
Many speculate that the absences are red flags in Taiwan's relationship with them, especially with Panama and Nicaragua which have permanent missions in the United Nations in Geneva.
"We are still trying to get to the bottom of the issue, but we are willing to give our allies the benefit of the doubt," said Yang in a press conference later Monday night, admitting the Costa Rica mistake might not be as simple as an "accident" and that the absence of Panama and Nicaragua does indeed send a warning signal.
According to Taiwanese officials, the Marshall Islands representative had severe diarrhea to the point that he never left the hotel to attend the assembly. Another Taiwanese official told the Taiwan News that Costa Rica's mistake was not intentional, but rather a "problem of language" since Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country.
So far, however, Taiwan's authorities still did do not understand why Costa Rica failed to correct its vote with the general assembly's legal counsel even after admitting the mistake.
This was the first time Taiwan bid for full membership as "Taiwan," Yang said, "and the government will definitely review the strategy and try to come up with a better one next year."
He acknowledged that holding the meeting hostage for three hours might be seen as a disruption of the assembly, but argued that human life, especially the lives of 23 million Taiwanese people, was far more important then conserving time.
Yang also noted that past advocates such as the United States, Japan, Canada, and the European Union, stuck to their supportive stance for Taiwan's increased participation in the WHO even though they did not support Taiwan's full membership bid.
"Overall, Taiwan gained ground this year without losing the support it had garnered from the past."
Tuvalu Health Minister Iakoba Italeli, agreeing with Yang, said Tuvalu will never betray Taiwan after 28 years of friendship and that "it is important for Taiwan to make some noise" in order to attract the attention of world.
"Some countries, like Pakistan, were annoyed that the Taiwan issue was brought up over and over again. But it only means the WHO has never addressed the Taiwan issue properly and that's why it has to be discussed again and again until the problem is corrected," said Italeli.
As of press time, delegates from Panama and Nicaragua were unavailable for comment.