Taiwan must beware of China's WHA trap

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party and other civic and health reform groups should intensify their monitoring of the interaction between the governing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the People's Republic of China's ruling Chinese Communist Party on Taiwan's annual bid for World Health Assembly observer status.
Although President Ma Ying-jeou and most other KMT leaders have complained that Beijing has so far failed to respond to his government's appeasing stance toward the PRC with any clear “goodwill” gestures on Taiwan's WHA status, there are signs that party-to-party negotiations between the KMT and the CCP have made progress on a formula to handle this issue.
For example, Hong Kong media reported late last week that PRC Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Lee Weiyi said Beijing was aware of Taipei's desire to take part in the work of the Geneva-based World Health Organization, which is governed by the WHA, and would “solve the problem through mutual efforts in consulting and negotiation.”
Lee's latest trial balloon is likely to be another tactical move characteristic of CCP negotiation strategy, which frequently induces its opponent to make more and more concessions before showing its own cards.
Indeed, due to Ma's obvious anxiety to make progress on his campaign promise to expand Taiwan's international space through talks with the PRC, Beijing lured the KMT government to immediately open full direct links with the four agreements signed in Taipei in November.
Despite intense domestic opposition displayed in a 500,000-plus strong DPP-sponsored demonstration in Taipei on Oct. 25, Ma insisted on inviting Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin to Taiwan in vain hopes of receiving a “goodwill” message from the PRC envoy on the WHA issue in return.
However, repeated entreaties by KMT leaders have prompted Beijing to reaffirm the offer made by PRC President and CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao to KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung during their May meeting in Beijing to begin talks between the two parties on Taiwan's international participation.
The PRC side itself has witnessed internal debates over a unified strategy to handle the issue.
Doves, represented by the TAO, have urged the Beijing top leadership to seize the chance afforded by the KMT government's return to the “one China” umbrella and grant the KMT's some favors to help bolster its public support.
Hawks, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the People's Liberation Army, have objected that opening the doors into the WHA and WHO will only led Taiwan to ask for more space in other bodies, especially if the DPP manages to return to power.
The devils in the details
Lee's trial balloon hints that a formula may be close to completion, but our greatest concern is under what conditions and through what channels will Beijing allow Taiwan to participate in the WHA.
While the vast majority of the Taiwan people want at least a formal and distinct observer status in the WHA and “meaningful participation” in the WHO, PRC sources indicate that Beijing “will remain firm on sovereignty” and will insist that any concessions on Taiwan's participation in the WHA or WHO an “exception” that will not be applicable to any other international organization in the United Nations system.
To realize even this limited concession, Beijing would have to invalidate the secret memorandum it signed with the WHO secretary-general in May 2005 that granted the PRC Ministry of Health the authority to vet all WHO health-related communications and information to Taiwan and to permit Taiwan specialists from some participation in WHO events under the rubric of “Taipei, China.”
The chances that Beijing will agree to revoke this arrangement are low. A more likely scenario from Beijing's standpoint would be to allow Taiwan to receive first-hand and timely information from the WHO, perhaps as a “health entity” under the rubric of “Taipei, China” or at best “Chinese Taipei.”
Such an arrangement, which would not transgress the bounds of the May 2005 MOU, would exclude Taiwan from formal and distinct participation in the WHO system and allow Beijing to retain an ultimate veto power on Taiwan's participation, but fall far short of what most Taiwan people see as “international participation.”
It is also possible that the PRC could simply verbally discourage its diplomatic allies from vetoing Taiwan's application for WHA observer status as a hypocritical sign of “goodwill,” regardless of the outcome of the actual vote.
Naturally, the worst case scenario would be for the PRC to continue to reject Taiwan's bid for WHA observer status outright in expectations that Ma and the KMT will not dare to reconsider their “tilt” toward Beijing regardless of such a slap in the face.
The DPP and concerned civic groups should act now to pressure the Ma administration not to sacrifice Taiwan's health security, dignity and sovereignty for the sake of a superficial display of false goodwill by the PRC and insist on Taiwan's formal and distinct participation in the WHO system.