Biden signs bill to help Taiwan regain WHA observer status

05/14/2022 01:09 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Washington, May 13 (CNA) U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday signed a bill into law to help Taiwan regain observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA), demonstrating Washington's strong support for Taiwan.

Friday was the deadline for Biden to sign the bill (S.812), which directs "the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization (WHO), and for other purposes."

The 75th WHA, the decision-making body of the WHO, is scheduled to open on May 22.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was passed in a "unanimous consent" in the Senate on Aug. 6, 2021 and received the greenlight at the House of Representatives, 425 to zero, on April 27, 2022 before being sent to Biden's desk for signing on May 3.

Menendez said in his Twitter message that he was "thrilled" to see Biden sign the bill into law to support Taiwan in its efforts to regain its observer seat at the WHA.

"In the face of Beijing's hostility, our efforts powerfully demonstrate the United States' commitment to Taiwan's appropriate presence on the world stage," the U.S. senator said.

According to the passed bill, Taiwan remains a model contributor to world health, having provided financial and technical assistance to respond to numerous global health challenges as the country has invested over US$6 billion in international medical and humanitarian aid efforts impacting over 80 countries since 1996.

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, was expelled from the WHO in 1972 after losing its seat at the United Nations when the U.N. switched recognition to the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan took part in the WHA as an observer from 2009 to 2016, when relations between Taipei and Beijing were good under the previous Kuomintang (KMT) government in Taiwan.

However, since 2017, China has pressured the WHO not to invite Taiwan to the WHA, in retaliation against President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party rejecting a previous compromise agreement accepted by the KMT.

After recent years of the WHA's excluding Taiwan from the observer seat, Menendez and Jim Inhofe, co-chairmen of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, jointly introduced the bill in March 2021.

In a joint statement with Menedez, Inhofe said Taiwan's observer status must be restored and with the signing of this bipartisan legislation.

"China continues to block Taiwan from obtaining observer status at the World Health Assembly, despite Taiwan being a strong, reliable and dedicated partner to the United States and the international community," Inhofe said. "Given China's continued malicious behavior, we cannot allow them to refuse Taiwan a seat at the table any longer."

In response, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said on Saturday that Biden's signing of the bill into law was very meaningful, in particular as the upcoming WHA meeting will kick off soon.

The 75th WHA meeting is scheduled to take place in Geneva from May 22 to 28.

The MOFA said after Biden took office in January 2021, the president started to take concrete actions to show the U.S. support for Taiwan's participation in international organizations, and his signing of the bill into law on Friday represented additional evidence of the U.S. executive and legislative branches' adamant support for Taiwan to regain the WHA observer status.

The MOFA said the ministry was grateful for the latest Biden action and has been determined to work with the U.S. and other like-minded countries to continue to make contributions to global health affairs.

Taiwan plans to send a delegation to Geneva during the 75th WHA, even though it has not been invited to attend.

The delegation, to be led by Deputy Health Minister Lee Li-feng (李麗芬), will seek to meet on the sidelines with representatives from WHO member countries, to hold discussions and garner support for Taiwan's participation in the WHA.

(By Stacy Hsu and Frances Huang)

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