Beijing yesterday criticised a planned new World Health Organisation (WHO) succession rule that would come into effect if the position of Western Pacific regional director suddenly becomes vacant. Vice-Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun's criticism came after Australia tabled an amendment to the rules for electing a regional director. The current WHO regional director for Western Pacific is Japan's Shigeru Omi, re-elected to serve until 2009. He took leave of absence in mid-June after Tokyo declared his candidacy for the post of WHO director-general. If he wins in November, the regional post will become vacant. A document distributed to member states yesterday to support the amendment stated the rule change was needed to 'address the present possibility of a vacancy in the post of regional director by deciding to accelerate the nomination process if the incumbent regional director were elected director-general'. Dr Omi is running against 12 other contenders, including former Hong Kong director of health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, who was nominated by the central government. Professor Jiang said: 'We oppose the situation that we only discuss an illusionary situation of an individual case, in order to avoid a partial and limited discussion [of the issue]. 'The amendment procedure should only be launched when we are clear that the current regional director cannot perform his duties.' Professor Jiang said the mainland delegation understood the rationale behind the amendment, but believed it should cover all possible factors that would leave a regional director unable to continue in the position. The secretary of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, Jane Halton, insisted that the amendment was not connected with the WHO director-general elections. She pointed to the unexpected death of former director-general Lee Jong-wook, who died in May nearly three years into a five-year term. Mr Lee's death sparked ugly behind-the-scenes manoeuvring in the WHO executive board over selection of an acting director-general and how the election for a new director-general should proceed.