Addressing the United Nations status on Taiwan: Opening Doors for New Nations
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 31 May , 2016


Taiwan has been in a political controversy ever since the Chinese civil war, which instigated a series of disputes between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China. Today this controversy continues without making headlines, at times and mostly without foreign interference. Their participation in the international arena became controversial until UN reached to a conclusion which resulted in a round table discussion in 1971 where PRC remained a legitimate contender. Since then, Taiwan has never participated in an international dialogue.

Road to conflict

The giant in electronics, Taiwan is famous for its good food, with a flourishing economyand with a population of over 23.3 million. Taiwan was a Japanese colony till the 2nd World War. With decisive victory over Japan, the island was under the occupation of US troops for a brief period, but as the Chinese Civil War grew intense, the Chinese nationalistsfailed to prevent communist’s aggression which led to the foundation of the People`s Republic of China in Beijing. Moreover, the Kuomintang, which were the political party of Chinese nationalists,under their leader Chiang Kai-shek,fearing execution, ran to Taiwanwhich they then referred as thecapital of the then Republic of China.

Their hope and aspirations were to stand as an alternative government that would be more favourable to the Western rather than the communist government in Beijing. Afterwards, both governments pursued the ‘One China Policy’ and claimed to be the only legitimate representative of it.

Expulsing the People’s Republic of China

Western powers unanimously agreed not to favour the communist government for a seat in the Security Council, so, power nations became their deserved candidates. As the rivalry between the“Two China’s” grew intense, PRC failed to gain the recognition at the United Nationsas the rivalry between the two countries were discussed free frequently. Moreover, the separation was eventual and it didn’t go through as Chiang wished. Agitated, PRC began receiving international supportand was finally accepted a year later, this proved to be a major step for PRC which changed the course of some major political decisions since 1971.

The day that changed history

The Article 18 stated that:

“Decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. These questions shall include: recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security …the admission of new Members to the United Nations, the suspension of the rights and privileges of membership, the expulsion of Members…”

The People’s Republic of China received 76 votes in favour, 35 voted against and 17 opted abstentions, as the ROC delegation walked out, the delegation of PRC walked in the hall. This sudden change was possible because of the Resolution 2758, which stated that:

“Recognizing that the representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations and that the People’s Republic of China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Decides to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.”

UN and the agitated ROC

ROC’s expulsion from the UN was never foreseen and UN’s bombshell on Taiwan had immense and harsh effects.The Republic of China became isolated, their multilateral dialogues were crippled which resulted in massive political and social repercussions. The increasing number of people to Taiwan to free themselves from the communist rules and norms created an atmosphere of instability as many applying were unable to find prosperity and growth in an isolated country, Ministry of Foreign Affairs was mocked as it became a non-functional organization from a key ministry. During these hard times, ROC tried to make diplomatic relations with Washington and Beijing, and the very first attempt was made in 1972, when the then President Richard Nixon visited Beijing. In 1979, US and PRC released a joined communiqué, acknowledging thatthe US will refer PRC as ‘China’ and Taiwan as its province, which terminated any hope of future communication moreover relationwith this power nation.

Re-attempt to join the UN

Obviously, isolated ROC took time to recover from this rejection, but in 1989,the government introduced a ‘pragmatic policy’ which a benchmarkand a long shot in becoming active internationally and mend their relations with the long lost world. With this in mind, Taiwan applied for a membership to join UN in 1991and since then, Taiwan has applying for membership every year, even failing continuously till 2009 while registering through many names; the Republic of China, the Republic of China on Taiwan, Taiwan (R.O.C) and Taiwan. Furthermore, United Nations declined Taiwan’s request to join as a non-member but failed when it applied for a full membership in 2009.

The then Secretary General of the UN simply declined their request, stating the fact that UN had already recognised PRC asthe eligible representative of China and Taiwan being a part of it. The then Secretary General stated with respect to the UN conventions and resolutions passed over the years, hoping that Taiwan would drop its endeavours to apply for the membership every year.

Diplomacy through WHO

Failing to bid for the UN, Taiwanese then turned their attention to participate in the World Health Organization, and further applied using different names amid rejections. However, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003which spread in most parts of PRC, Hong Kong and Taiwan rang the bells for PRC and for WHO officials, and other participating nationsto consider Taiwanese applications into account, as ROC accused governments and international communities such as WHO of ignoring the risk of the people.

After repetitive discussions ROC and WHO agreed to allow Taiwan participate in the dialogue, ROC then were able to able to attend all the WHO meetings and other gatherings.

Moreover, after involving with international communities and agencies, Taiwanese Minister of Health was able to get involve with other UN agenciesand international collaboration from time to time. Taiwan received their significant victory when they successfully participated in the 62nd World Health Assembly, as the ‘Chinese Taipei’ in 2009, although how far ROC will go and PRC will allow them to go as an individual state remains an issue undiscussed. 

Hurdles ahead

There are many reasons behind the rejection and recognition of Taiwan as a separate state by the UN. It is very important for Taiwanese policy makers to address these challenges effectively and adequately. Some of the key reasons are explained below:

The General Assembly Resolution 2785

Passed in1971, it simply it simply states that UN will recognise the existence of state only within the boundaries of “One Chine”, which has a P-5 permanent member seat in the United Nations Security Council. The eligible state has already been decided to be the People’s Republic of China, so, the Republic of China has no legal recognition to appear as the Mainland in the UN, nor in any other related organizations.

Claiming One China Policy

Many nations today follow the policy of ‘One China’ which comprise of both the Mainland and Taiwan, which has become a huge barrier for ROC to get politically recognised. Moreover, PRC further claims that one country cannot have relations with two different China, so, the matter is now for both the states to recognise each other.

Taiwan’s Political Status

Today, the controversy is, PRC recognises Taiwan as a part of itand there is no room for independence or sovereignty. Since, most of the international and UN agencies recognises only the states that are sovereign. Because of this principle, Taiwan is recognised as a province on the borders of PRC, hence removing the doubts for external relations. 

Relations between PRC and ROC

“Relations” will not be an appropriate word to describe the relationship between the PRC and ROC, but its stands today as a fact that, because of their shared historical significance, these two parties interact with each other today.Today, the current Taiwanese government and its presidentMa Ying-jeou advocates for reunification, howeverthere are certain amount of people who seek sovereignty and independence. In an effort to warmer the relations between the two, both governments are continuing their efforts to bring peace in the Cross-Strait.

Importantly, the PRC is Taiwan’s largest partner in trade and Taiwan ranks in the top of the list of importers in trade.Measures such as these have been strengthening their confidence building mechanism and have strengthened their economic relations; both the markets have welcomes banks, financial investors and foreign direct investments. Confidence building mechanism are considered to be a key player in eliminating the deadlock, it softens the tension in the region, and even in the history, measures such as these have been fruitful. There are several other examples that shows positive relationship between the two, the rapidly increasing flights between Beijing and Taipei and the increasing number of people crossing the borders for the same. However, such efforts, positive steps haven’t been enough for both the sides to respect each other.

Dispute on South China Sea

The ongoing conflict in the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has stretched the boundaries between Taiwan and PRC, along with neighbouring nations Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Located strategically, the area is rich in natural resources such as oil reserves and naturalgas deposits, which acts as instigators of this dispute. The history of this controversy lands us back in the 3rd century BC as the mentioned islands were a part of the then Chinese occupation now with the PRC.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seawhich came into action in 1994, finds PRC guilty of violating rights on sea. Today, Beijingcontrols all of the Paracel Islands, as Spratly Islands are currently in control of Vietnam. Due to growing tensions, all the nations along the South China sea are on the edge, getting armed and ready for an outburst.

Strengthening Borders

The growing tensions along with South China sea is evident, relations are on the verge of being decimated, so, any chance of disarmament is out of the equation. Not only because of territorial claims but alsothe long standing conflict between Beijing and Taipei has increased the fragility of the equation.

PRC has deployed surface to air missiles all over the Strait, and has setup ammunitions and modern weaponry caches in and around the Strait. US is the leading weapons supplier for Taiwan and the latter is the biggest arms intake for the US. Between 2003 to 2006, $4.1 Taiwan invested over $4.1 Millionin defence sector which directly went to the US treasury, which also creates strong disagreement points between the US and PRC.

In 2002, the then President George Bush supported the arms and ammunitions trade to ROC and stated it as an effort of Taiwan self-defend itself. He further stated that“the US will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself, and the Chinese must understand that”.Beijing heavily reacted, forcing US to end the trade of arms, unofficially. Moreover, the weapons trade did not close for long, and again in 2008 a contract was signed between the US and Taiwan, which resulted in expenditure of $6.4 billion worth military equipment to Taipei. The Chinese government suspended all its military contracts in retaliation to the new deal.


Taiwanese have been applying for a permanent membership for decades and it is important for member nations in the UN to consider into account all the scenarios in the past, it is moreover, important for member nations to take part in dialogues, considering UN says in all of it. President Ma Ying-jeou’sadvocacy towards unification is already mixing the minds of those who still wants Taiwan`s sovereignty than a unification, but it is also important for policy makers to understand that not much has been achievedas millions of people still remain rejected.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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One thought on “Addressing the United Nations status on Taiwan: Opening Doors for New Nations

  1. I find it hypocritical on the part of all nations, including India, that while all claim to follow the “One China”policy, Taiwan is also included in their agenda, though not openly. While in USA, I found an officer from the Taiwan Army doing the course with us, but he was not allowed to announce his rank, nor did he wear uniform. Diplomatic channels are routed not through Embassies….but through “Trade Missions”….who are you trying to fool with not allowing Taiwan to be a member of the UN?

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