50 years ago today, representatives from around the world gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for a vote that changed history.
By day’s end, the Republic of China (ROC), a government that fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War in 1949, was out of the world organization. Instead, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Communist government that seized power on the mainland, was recognized as “China’s sole legitimate representative” and admitted to the UN as a permanent member. of the Security Council with veto power.
It was a blow to the nationalist government, which had been one of the founding members of the United Nations and had contributed to the victory of the Allies in World War II. As the Taipei delegation walked out of the general assembly hall that night, its foreign minister bitterly warned that the move would threaten peace everywhere. “This is dangerous nonsense”, he said.
After the Communist victory and the founding of the PRC in 1949, the Nationalist and Communist governments claimed to be the sole representatives of the whole of Chinese territory, forcing other countries and international organizations to choose one or the other.
Initially, many countries stuck to their alliances with the ROC and avoided the PRC. But over time more and more governments switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing – leaving Taiwan with just 15 diplomatic allies today.
The UN, too, was forced to choose – and the fateful vote of 1971 ultimately reflected the change in which “China” its members had decided to recognize.
Dual representation at the UN had already been mentioned as a potential solution, but it was rejected by Beijing and Taipei. “There is no place for patriots and traitors to live together”, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the defeated nationalists, said famous in 1961.
In the decades since the vote, the resolution helped shape China’s rise as a world power and granted it broad voting power to “participate in the UN bureaucracy and shape the language.” UN resolutions, ”said Maggie Lewis, an expert on contemporary Chinese law. at Seton Hall University.
And under increasing pressure from Beijing, Taiwan has become increasingly diplomatically isolated, excluded from big agencies like the World Health Organization.
Beijing, meanwhile, continues to view Taiwan as an inseparable country. part of its territory – even though the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades and the Chinese Communist Party has never controlled the democratic island of about 24 million people.
Despite these pressures, Taiwan continued to maintain relations with a number of key Western partners, in particular the United States, which supplied Taiwan with defensive weapons and sent senior officials to visit the island.
In a statement released on Saturday, the US State Department said US and Taiwanese officials met for a “discussion focused on supporting Taiwan’s ability to meaningfully participate in the UN.”
“The American participants reiterated the United States’ commitment to Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the World Health Organization and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and discussed ways to highlight Taiwan’s ability to contribute to efforts on a wide range of issues, ”he added.
Unsurprisingly, the statement sparked outrage from China, which views such suggestions as a dangerous signal to supporters of formal Taiwan independence.
Chinese state media quickly called the Biden administration “the most incapable and degenerate in the country’s history,” adding that Taiwan had “fabricated history and betrayed morality.” The incitement to Taiwan’s participation in the UN was a “cheap move” and “shameless manipulation,” he said.
Although only sovereign states can be full members of the UN, Taipei accused Beijing of “intentionally misinterpreting” the 1971 resolution to bar Taiwan from entering, suggesting that Taipei no longer contests the seat of the United Nations. the UN in China. Lots on the island just want to participate separately under the name of Taiwan.
The 1971 resolution “was content to settle the question of powers, that is to say the question of knowing who represents the Member State of the United Nations, China, without implying a position on the extent of its territory, let alone approve the PRC’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan ”. noted Liang-yu Wang, deputy representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Bureau in the United States, the island’s de facto embassy, on Thursday.
“But every year, China has moved from a question of accreditation to a political declaration, even to a legal demand,” she added. “Therefore, nowadays, the resolution is often mistakenly cited to exclude Taiwan’s participation in meetings and activities of the United Nations system.
Even “shallow participation” has been blocked – and meaningful participation will be even more difficult, Chinese legal expert Lewis said. In Beijing’s eyes, even Taiwan’s most marginal inclusion in the UN could undermine its claim to sovereignty – an outcome it is committed to defending at all costs.
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