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China policy trumps health needs in bird flu discussion

Public health authorities have explained for months that theworld faces a possible pandemic from bird flu. Internationalcooperation is essential to prepare against such a disturbingprospect. Public health needs, after all, transcend politicalborders.

Yet, in one glaring instance, selfish national politics istrumping common-sense cooperation on public health needs.

The culprit is China. Its government insists that the islandnation of Taiwan – which China claims as part of its territory -should be forbidden from cooperating with the World HealthOrganization. The WHO is the central body for international publichealth initiatives.

Because of China’s small-minded refusal to budge, Taiwan is notallowed to have even observer status at the WHO – even though suchstatus is granted to three international organizations and sixentities, including a quasi-state (Palestine) and a politicalorganization (the Order of Malta).

Leaving Taiwan out of the international effort to prepare forthe bird flu is ludicrous. Taiwan (which, in contrast to China, hasa democratically elected government) is a nation of some 23 millionpeople – a population larger than those of 75 percent of the WHO’smember states.

Taiwan is a busy transit point for travelers. The country lieson 13 international flight routes. In 2005, the number of outboundtravelers from the country numbered 10 million. The number ofinbound visitors exceeded 3 million.

Taiwan has a record of energetic participation in internationalhumanitarian efforts. And the island nation needlessly suffered in2003 during the SARS outbreak, when China thwarted Taiwan’scoordination with the WHO.

Protests by the United States and other representatives likelywould have little effect on China’s intransigence. But theoutrageous nature of Beijing’s actions indeed deserves scorn fromthe rest of the world community.