Last week, something improbable happened: An international organization kicked China out and named a Taiwanese as its next president for 2021 to 2023. Jack Li (李友專) had over the past decade been nominated several times to be president of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA), but each time China allegedly rallied its allies to block the move.
Taiwan has also been chosen to host the 2023 MedInfo conference, one of the largest and most prestigious events in the medical informatics field. While the IMIA is by no means a household name like the WHO or the UN, it has been around for 30 years and has 61 member nations and 51 academic institutes.
China’s expulsion was not even a contested issue — 28 members voted in favor of the motion, one voted against and 10 abstained. Apparently, it was booted for “a series of improprieties,” such as changing the venue of an assembly four times when it was host and failure to pay its fees, the Taipei Times reported on Saturday last week.
Curiously, the Taiwan Association for Medical Informatics posted a clarification on its Web site on Saturday asserting that China being kicked out and Li being elected president, as well as Taiwan gaining the right to host the conference, were completely unrelated. It went on to state that China had always supported Taiwan’s endeavors and ambitions within the organization, and had never interfered with Li’s presidential bids.
It is naive to think that China was kicked out to make room for Taiwan, but given China’s behavior toward Taiwan on all levels of international interaction, down to harmless cultural festivals, it seems extremely unlikely that China would support a Taiwanese as president and root for Taiwan to host a major event.
That Li became president immediately upon China’s expulsion is also telling. Furthermore, the Central News Agency cited Li as saying that he never thought he would have this chance amid Chinese pressure.
However, no matter how Taiwan earned this “victory,” it is worth celebrating in light of all the international setbacks it has suffered due to ramped up Chinese pressure over the past several years.
Most of Taiwan’s victories on the international stage have been related to democracy, human rights and free speech — areas in which China blatantly fails. From Reporters Without Borders and the Oslo Freedom Forum to the Federation of International Human Rights Museums earlier this month, international organizations have specifically chosen to set up shop in Taiwan for obvious reasons.
However, the IMIA development is more than just about “winning” against China. Taiwan would not get to be such a prominent member of an organization if it did not have the skills to back it up. The nation has an excellent electronic medical records system with extensive data through its world-class National Health Insurance program. It is also known for leveraging its cutting-edge information technology capabilities to establish a wide array of smart health products and solutions. As part of its soft power diplomacy, Taiwan has been sharing these capabilities with other nations, and such an achievement is even more worthy of celebration than the recognition of the nation’s often overlooked accomplishments.