On Sept. 12, 2017, the UN General Assembly convened its 72nd year around the theme of “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet.” This month marks the 10th anniversary of the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a document which affirms the UN principle of the right to self-determination of all peoples. In spite of this focus on people, however, the 23 million people of Taiwan remain excluded from the UN.
Since the inauguration of Dr. Tsai Ing-wen (of the Democratic Progressive Party) as president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in May 2016, China has demonstrated a firm resolve to ban Taiwan from all UN events. China is unwilling to even entertain flexible accommodations that have, for example, permitted participation by Indigenous delegations from Taiwan at UN Indigenous forums in New York and Geneva since 1988.
Due to Chinese pressure, Taiwan in the past year has been refused admission to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Fisheries, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the NGO Committee for Rare Diseases, and the Commission on the Status of Women. It’s the first time since 2009 that Taiwan was denied access to the 2017 World Health Assembly. China even protested against Nicaragua’s expression of concern for the rights of Taiwanese workers at the International Labour Organization. These are all areas in which Taiwan can contribute valuable expertise to sustainable development and international security. Chinese pettiness goes so far as to prohibit tourists holding Taiwanese passports from viewing public areas of UN buildings.
Taiwan’s conundrum is a relic of the Cold War, when both the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China. Since the ROC was a founding member of the UN, diplomats from Taipei participated in UN forums until Oct. 25, 1971. On that day, UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 decided to recognize the PRC as the only legitimate representatives of China 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.” Neither government gave consideration to the people of Taiwan, many of whom resented the imposition of Chiang Kai-shek’s government on their island since 1945.
Canada provided a voice of reason at the time. Paul Martin, as secretary of state for External Affairs, stated at the 1968 Banff Conference on World Affairs that, “We are prepared to accept the victory in mainland China in 1949. …We consider, however, that the effective political independence of Taiwan is a political reality, too.” Back then, the Taiwanese people could not enjoy the right to self-determination because they were dominated by a foreign (Chinese) military regime dedicated to reconquering the Mainland.
Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, democratization enabled the Taiwanese to reshape the Republic of China into a government that represents their interests. Taiwanese people freely elect their president and legislative Yuan—a government that has abandoned all pretence of representing China internationally. Their passports are accepted for visa-free entry into Europe, the United States, Canada, and other countries. This means that Taiwan is a more effective political reality than ever. Taiwan and its allies are usually capable of finding pragmatic solutions to maintain substantive relations. Taiwan and Canada, for example, have a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on Indigenous issues. Canada can surely take a lead in encouraging the UN and related agencies to welcome the people of Taiwan whenever possible.
Scott Simon is a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Ottawa.
The Hill Times
Enter your email address to
register a free account.