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April 28, 2017

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China hurting Taiwan's environment: Dang

Taiwan has concerns about airborne mercury and arsenic pollution to raise with China and a great deal of clean-up expertise to offer the polluted mainland, but Beijing's refusal to deal with the island stymies cooperation, Taiwan's environment minister said on Friday.

Even worse for Taiwan's 23 million people, said Minister Winston Dang, China's pressure on U.N. agencies and other international organizations to shun the island gives Taiwan few avenues for global cooperation on environmental issues.

"China has to understand that this is not only Taiwan's problem, but that it's a global problem," the head of Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration told Reuters.

A high-altitude monitoring station on Taiwan's Jade Mountain detected dramatically higher levels of mercury in the atmosphere due to coal burning and steel manufacturing in China, Dang said, adding he was worried about arsenic as well.

"If mercury is in food, you can refuse to eat it, but you can't refuse to breathe. It's a terrible thing," he said in an interview in Washington following informal talks with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Taiwan, which lies just 90 miles (144 km) from China, got a painful taste of mainland environmental woes last year.

"Not only did China send SARS to Taiwan in 2003, in 2006 we suffered dust storms so bad we couldn't open our eyes," said Dang.

He was referring to the deadly respiratory disease SARS that spread from China to its neighbors. Taiwan received no help from the U.N. World Health Organization because Beijing stridently rejected Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Dang said a way forward for Taiwan may lie in one of the few international groups in which it does participate: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which will hold its annual leaders' meeting in Sydney early next month.

"Hopefully through this APEC platform, Taiwan can (have) an interconnection with international organizations," he said.

Taiwan will offer an initiative called "Green APEC Opportunities" in pollution control, clean manufacturing and household recycling, said Dang.

Air pollution from China has put new burdens on Taiwan's health care system as asthma and other illnesses mount, he said, adding that once poor and polluted Taiwan could help China tackle its environmental troubles.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan paid a heavy price in the environment, and they are walking the same path," Dang said.

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