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Taiwan tells allies not to push for island’s UN membership

Pro-independence leader adopts pragmatic approach to taking part in UN affairs

August 28, 2018 6:08 PM (UTC+8)
A pro-Taiwan rally outside the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: AFP

The Tsai Ing-wen administration in Taiwan has reportedly decided not to ask its diplomatic allies to submit a fresh motion to the United Nations General Assembly to admit the island as a formal member.

In 1993, the self-ruling island launched what later became an annual campaign to regain its seat at the United Nations.

Former president Chen Shui-bian, who had a stated pro-independence platform, had several failed attempts to return to the global body under the name “Taiwan”. He said the 23 million Taiwanese should enjoy the same rights as the rest of the world.

An activist shows a Republic of China (Taiwan) passport inside the Security Council chamber at the UN headquarters. Photo: Handout
Another activist displays a Taiwan flag outside the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: Handout

Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, was booted out when the General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 to change China’s representation at the UN on 25 October 1971.

The island’s previous bids to return to the UN were always seen as futile or mere political posturing, given that China can veto any bill because it is a permanent member of the Security Council.

The island hasn’t submitted such a bid since 2009.

Chen’s successor Ma Ying-jeou tried instead to get Taiwan to take part in UN-affiliated organizations and to contribute to UN programs and initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

There have also been suggestions to try to get Taiwan admitted as an observer in the General Assembly, as with Palestine. Yet the case of Palestine is different due to the UN’s commitment to a two-state solution for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict but not for the issue of Taiwan.

US and EU longtime supporters

The US and European Union have long supported Taiwan’s efforts to have “meaningful participation” in UN agencies that do not require statehood, such as the World Health Organization.

In May 2009, representatives from the island’s public health authority were invited by the WHO to attend the 62nd World Health Assembly as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei”. That was Taiwan’s first participation in an event organized by a UN agency since it was expelled in 1971.

For years the island has also been demanding that the UN allow Taiwanese passport or identity-card holders and its journalists to enter its headquarters in New York and premises elsewhere, saying it is a restriction imposed at Beijing’s behest to browbeat the island’s international presence.

Though no membership will be sought this year, it has been reported that the Tsai administration plans to ask its 17 diplomatic allies – all UN members – to file a joint petition to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres concerning “China’s bullying” and to speak up for the island during debates throughout the General Assembly session due to start next month.

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