Taiwan, China health ministers meet at WHA
By Y.C. Jou, Chen Ching-fang and Sofia Wu, CNA
May 19, 2009, 4:51 pm TWN
Geneva -- Taiwan's Department of Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan exchanged greetings with his Chinese counterpart at the opening of the 2009 World Health Assembly (WHA) Monday, the first time that health ministers from Taiwan and China have interacted at a U.N.-affiliated event.
Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu took the initiative to walk toward Yeh as Yeh was preparing to leave the conference hall following World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan's speech at the WHA's second plenary session.
Yeh and Chen shook hands and chatted briefly, setting the precedent for health ministers from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait interacting at a WHO event.
Yeh is the first Taiwanese health minister admitted to the WHO's annual meeting since the Republic of China lost its U.N. membership in 1971.
The World Health Assembly, the WHO's decision-making arm, opened Monday with swine flu and the possibility of a vaccine topping the agenda.
After 12 failed attempts, Taiwan was invited to attend the WHA this year for the first time as an observer under the designation "Chinese Taipei."
The invitation was widely seen as the result of improving relations across the Taiwan Strait over the past year under President Ma Ying-jeou's pragmatic policy of engagement with China.
In the past, China relentlessly blocked Taiwan's presence in any U.N.-affiliated activities for fear of giving a wrong impression that it recognized Taiwan's statehood.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius expressed a warm welcome to Taiwan's presence in the WHA in her speech at the opening session, saying Taiwan's participation was worth celebrating.
On behalf of all European Union member states, Czech Health Minister Dana Juraskova also welcomed Taiwan's participation in her speech. The Czech Republic holds the EU rotating presidency in the first half of 2009.
Besides attending the WHA, Yeh also held bilateral talks with Japan's Vice Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Takao Watanabe Monday.
During their 40-minute meeting, Yeh said he exchanged views with Watanabe on how to cope with the swine flu threat and reached a consensus on cooperation in vaccine research, information exchanges and preventive measures.