U.S. bill on Taiwan WHO observer status passes first hurdle
Washington, Jan. 22 (CNA) The United States House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that directs the U.S. secretary of state to help Taiwan regain observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new House bill, which has to be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate to become law, asks the U.S. secretary of state to develop a strategy to help Taiwan regain the status as an observer at the WHO.
The bill says Taiwan began seeking to participate in the WHO as an observer in 1997.
In 2009, during a period of improved cross-Taiwan Strait relations, Taiwan received an invitation to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of WHO, as an observer under the name "Chinese Taipei," it says.
Taiwan received the same invitation each year until 2016, when following the election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan's engagement in the international community began facing increased resistance from the People's Republic of China (PRC), the bill says.
The bill says Taiwan's invitation to the 2016 WHA was received late and included new language conditioning Taiwan's participation on the PRC's "one China principle," noting that in 2017, Taiwan did not receive an invitation to the WHA.
The previous version of the bill, introduced by Florida Republican Ted Yoho, was approved by the House last year, but did not make the Senate's daily floor schedule in time.
According to the procedures of the United States Congress, all bills not passed by both the House and the Senate at the end of the last session, have to be reintroduced in the next Congress.
The House Republicans reintroduced the bill on Jan. 8 after making minor amendments.
The bill was supported by both Republican and Democratic congressmen, including Republicans Michael McCaul, Steve Chabot, Brian Fitzpatrick and Democrat Eliot Engel.
The U.S. Congress has long voiced support for Taiwan's meaningful participation in international organizations.
In May last year, 172 members of the U.S. Congress backed Taiwan's bid for observer status at the WHA in a letter sent to the UN agency's Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar also pledged to support Taiwan's efforts to participate in WHA last year, said it was disappointing Taiwan had not been invited as an observer.
Addressing the third plenary of the WHA, Azar said the world is now better prepared for a flu pandemic and while there is an internationally agreed upon process and timeline to share flu virus samples rapidly, every country and relevant international institution must do its part in order for such systems to work.
"Thus, it is again disappointing that Taiwan was not invited to observe WHA," Azar said.
"It is difficult to reconcile our shared concern over cross-border infectious diseases with excluding representatives of the 23 million people of Taiwan from this gathering," he added.
(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Chung Yu-chen)