Three-time Norwegian prime minister and former WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland on Monday spoke at Academia Sinica about her struggles to help Taiwan during the 2003 SARS epidemic in the face of Chinese pressure.
Brundtland, who won the Tang Prize in 2014, said the WHO has faced challenges in its dealings with Taiwan because, as a UN organization, it has to follow the UN’s principles on participation and rights.
The problems encountered by Brundtland and others like her in their attempts to help Taiwan stem from the nation holding fast to an obsolete national name, and the obsolete Constitution in which that name is enshrined.
The WHO is committed to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, which is in the interest of all of humanity. This is why Brundtland was able to convince the organization to help Taiwan in 2003.
However, most WHO members, as well as other international organizations in which Taiwan has sought participation, support China’s “one China” principle, and some even have leaders who are Chinese.
Brundtland said that during the SARS epidemic, some of the governments that were most opposed to working with Taiwan were responsible for the outbreak happening in the first place.
Even when Taiwan has achieved participation in various organizations in the past, it has often been mediated through Beijing, and required Taiwan to participate only as a guest under a different name.
The US Department of State on Oct. 26, 2016, reiterated its commitment to helping Taiwan achieve meaningful participation in Interpol.
The US opposed any decisions by organizations that unilaterally determine the status of Taiwan, US Department of State East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau spokeswoman Grace Choi said in an e-mail at the time.
“As a general matter, we support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is not a requirement and support its meaningful participation, as appropriate, in organizations where its membership is not possible,” she wrote.
A month later, Chinese Deputy Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei (孟宏偉) was chosen as the organization’s president. Since then, Taiwan has not made headway in its bid to work with Interpol.
In the same year, the US also expressed support for Taiwan’s participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Prior to that, Taiwan had joined the organization as an observer in 2013 when then-minister of foreign affairs David Lin (林永樂) announced a deal worked out with China that allowed Taiwan to participate as a guest under the name “Chinese Taipei CAA.”
Then-Democratic Progressive Party legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) criticized the announcement as a “clear message to the international community that invitations for Taiwan to participate in international activities must go through China.”
It is evident today that Lin Chia-lung’s predictions about the nation’s international space narrowing were correct. Its inability to participate in the ICAO has most recently culminated in the unilateral opening of flight routes by China close to the median line in the Taiwan Strait.
An opinion poll published on Wednesday found that young Taiwanese adults aged 20 to 29 support the cross-strait “status quo” more strongly than they do Taiwanese nationalism.
The problem is that the “status quo” is an illusion. The reality is that China is ramping up pressure on Taiwan, squeezing it out of the international community, poaching its allies and draining its talent.
While many in the international community might disagree with China’s bullying of Taiwan, any action they take would end up hurting them economically.
Taiwan must empower its friends to help it by shedding its relic of a Constitution and declaring itself an independent nation named “Taiwan.”