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Outrage over WHO memo kicks off Taiwan presidential race

An internal World Health Organization note calling Taiwan part of China generated a splashy protest from Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who called it 'belittlement' of the island’s ever sensitive political status.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou speaks during a news conference at the Presidential Office in Taipei May 10. Ma on Tuesday protested against the World Health Organization for referring to Taiwan as a province of China, according to local media.


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Had the World Health Organization memo calling Taiwan part of China leaked out last year, a wastebasket would have gobbled it up within hours.

But the Sept. 14 internal note made public this week generated an unusually splashy protest from Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who called it “belittlement” of the island’s ever-sensitive political status and a breach of the UN agency’s rules.

The note on dealing with Taiwan calls the self-ruled island of 23 million people a “province of China” rather than "Chinese Taipei," the government says. Taiwan and the WHO agreed to the second name, which sidesteps the question of whether Beijing has sovereignty over the island, when they won rights in 2009 to attend the UN body's World Health Assembly as an observer.

Mr. Ma seized upon the memo as an opening reelection campaign gambit, say political experts. The presidential race that started in April and culminates with a vote on Jan. 14 pits Ma – sometimes criticized locally as too pro-Beijing – against an opposition party widely considered tougher on issues involving China. This week the president has held a rare press conference on the WHO memo and asked the foreign ministry to lodge a protest with the WHO. His government says it also will take up the issue at the World Health Assembly.


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