China strongly hinted that it was prepared to let Taiwan participate in the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization. But Beijing stopped short of explicitly saying that it had accepted a Taiwanese presence at a gathering of the assembly next month.
Mao Qunan, the spokesman for China’s Health Ministry, said in a statement that the World Health Organization had invited Taiwan to participate next month, adding that “the current arrangement reflects our overall concern and good will toward Taiwan compatriots, and this promotes the cross-straits relationship and the peaceful development of relations.”
On his blog, John Pomfret puts this news in context:
Allowing Taiwan to show up for a major UN meeting qualifies as the first major concession on the part of China towards Taiwan following the election of Ma Ying-jeou as president of the island nation. In May 2008, Ma replaced the incompetent and allegedly corrupt Chen Shui-bian, who spent more time in office trying to yank out China’s nosehairs than help Taiwan.
The WHA invitation is part of a series of deals that the two sides have worked out over th last year. They’ve increased tourism across the Taiwan Straits and added flights. (The number of flights reportedly will jump to 270 a week; that’s a huge benefit to the many Taiwanese businesses that operate in China.) China has dispatched pandas to the Taipei zoo — panda diplomacy! And then on Sunday in Nanjing (the old capital of Nationalist China) the two sides agreed to a slate of agreements that will lay the groundwork for a flood of investment in financial services to flow across the Taiwan Strait for the first time in six decades.
But the holy grail for Taiwan (and for President Ma) so far was today’s announcement on the WHA. The reason is that by moving towards granting Taiwan observer status at a key UN agency, China is in effect (and for the first time in decades) giving Taiwan some “international space,” a little breathing room — something that President Chen had demanded but never got during his eight years in office.