WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL
May 21, 2003
"WHO's Afraid of Taiwan"
Apparently China is. And the consequences were made apparent this week.
The same day it rejected Taiwan's big for membership, the World Health
Organization listed Taiwan as home to the world's "most rapidly growing
outbreak" of Severe Respiratory Syndrome.
Has China's politicizing of SARS cost Chinese lives? From the start,
the Geneva-based U.N. health body has dismissed concerns that Taiwan's
exclusion from WHO could have disastrous consequences for its 23 million
people. What we do know, however, is that if China had done what Taiwan
did when the first causes of SARS came to its attention back in
November-reported them immediately and asked for help-the world might have
been able to contain the disease within China's borders. That's according
to WHO Executive Director David Heymann. Instead China covered up,
rebuffing WHO's offer of help and generally making thins worse for
Chinese deaths in Taiwan, of course, are not likely to disturb a
Beijing that has long proved its willingness to sacrifice Chinese lives on
the mainland. And Taiwanese membership in WHO remains particularly
anathema to Beijing, because WHO carries a U.N. imprimatur. But China worried
about a Taiwan slipping toward independence ought to think long and
hard about the anti-motherland sentiment its obstinacy is stoking on an
island where Chinese government can no loner afford to ignore popular
As for WHO, though much of the United Nations remains patently
dysfunctional, health is one area where the U.N. has a positive role to play.
If the will were there, the politics could be finessed. Surely a body
that can bestow observer status on the Palestine Liberation Organization
and the International Red Cross should be able to find room for a
Taiwan that represents the world's 16th-largest economy. Especially when
Taiwan is willing to apply not as a country but as a "health entity."
The health experts tell us that disease respects no borders.
Unfortunately the experts here have been constrained by China. If WHO is eve to
live up to its charter's promise of "the attainment by all peoples of
the highest possible level of health," it will first have to stop
plaything China's game.