China and the United Nations: Wikis


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Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek as a representative for China signing the United Nations Charter on 24 August 1945.
An image of the Chinese language text of General Assembly Resolution 2758 (25 October 1971). The English text of the resolution referred to "restor[ing] all its rights to the People's Republic of China" and recognizing it as the "only legitimate representatives of China", while expelling "the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek" (i.e. the Republic of China government).

China's seat in the United Nations and membership of the United Nations Security Council has been occupied by the People's Republic of China (PRC) since October 25, 1971. The representatives of the PRC first attended the UN, including the United Nations Security Council, as China's representatives on November 23, 1971. China's seat in all UN organs had been previously held by the Republic of China (ROC) since the UN's founding (1945-1971), until replaced by the PRC. As the Republic of China is now located in Taiwan, this situation has resulted in Taiwan not having the ability to select an ambassador to represent Taiwan at the UN.


The Republic of China in the United Nations

The Republic of China (ROC) was one of the founding members of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council from its creation in 1945. In 1949, the Communist Party of China seized power in mainland China and declared the People's Republic of China (PRC), claiming to have replaced the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China and the ROC government withdrew to Taiwan.

Until 1991, the ROC also actively claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China, and during the 1950s and 1960s this claim was accepted by the United States and most of its allies. While the PRC was an ally of the Soviet Union, the U.S. sought to prevent the Communist bloc from gaining another permanent seat in the Security Council. To protest the exclusion of the PRC, Soviet representatives boycotted the UN from January to August 1950 and their absence allowed for the intervention of UN military forces in Korea.

In 1952, the ROC complained to the UN against the Soviet Union for violating the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of 14 August 1945 and the Charter of the United Nations. The UN General Assembly has found that the Soviet Union prevented the National Government of the ROC from re-establishing Chinese authority in Manchuria after Japan surrendered and gave military and economic aid to the Chinese Communists, who founded the PRC in 1949, against the National Government of the ROC. Resolution 505 was passed to condemn the Soviet Union with 25 countries supporting, 9 countries opposing and 24 countries abstaining.

The ROC used its veto once — in 1955, the ROC representative cast the only Security Council veto blocking the admission of the Mongolian People's Republic to the United Nations on the grounds that all of Mongolia was part of China. This postponed the admission of Mongolia until 1960, when the Soviet Union announced that unless Mongolia was admitted, it would block the admission of all of the newly independent African states. Faced with this pressure, the ROC relented under protest.

From the 1960s onwards, nations friendly to the PRC, led by the People's Republic of Albania under Enver Hoxha, moved an annual resolution in the General Assembly to transfer China's seat at the UN from the ROC to the PRC. Every year the United States was able to assemble a majority of votes to block this resolution. But the admission of newly independent developing nations in the 1960s gradually turned the General Assembly from being Western-dominated to being dominated by countries sympathetic to Beijing. In addition, the desire of the Nixon administration to improve relations with the de facto government of mainland China to counterbalance the Soviet Union reduced American willingness to support the ROC.

As a result of these trends, on October 25, 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the General Assembly, withdrawing recognition of the ROC as the legitimate government of China, and recognizing the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. PRC received support from two-thirds of all United Nations' members including approval by the Security Council members excluding the ROC.

The General Assembly Resolution declared "that the representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations." Because this resolution was on an issue of credentials rather than one of membership, it was possible to bypass the Security Council where the United States and the ROC could have used their vetoes.

Since 1991 the ROC (now commonly known as Taiwan) has re-applied for UN membership to represent the people of Taiwan and its outlying islands only, under such names as "The Republic of China (Taiwan)," "The Republic of China on Taiwan," and most recently (in July 2007, under DPP President Chen Shui-bian) as simply "Taiwan." Taiwan has also requested that the UN consider the issue of its representation in other ways, such as granting it status as a "non-member entity," a position currently held by Palestine. Because of the opposition of the PRC, however, which holds veto power in the Security Council, all such applications have been denied. The ROC continues to call on the international body to recognize the rights of the 23 million people of Taiwan, who since 1971 have received no representation in the UN, or in its related international affiliates such as the World Health Organization.

On 27 July 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed ROC's most recent application for UN membership while meeting in California with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

...membership into the UN ultimately needs to be decided by the Member States of the United Nations. Membership is given to a sovereign country. The position of the United Nations is that the People's Republic of China is representing the whole of China as the sole and legitimate representative Government of China. The decision until now about the wish of the people in Taiwan to join the United Nations has been decided on that basis. The resolution that you just mentioned is clearly mentioning that the Government of China is the sole and legitimate Government and the position of the United Nations is that Taiwan is part of China.[1]

Ban Ki-moon came under fire for this statement from the ROC and possibly also from the US. The ROC stated that Resolution 2758 merely transferred the UN seat from the ROC to the PRC, but did not address the issue of Taiwan's representation in the UN. The ROC emphasized that the PRC government has never held jurisdiction over Taiwan and that the United Nations has never taken a formal stance regarding the sovereignty of Taiwan. There are unconfirmed reports that Ban's comments prompted the US to restate its position regarding the status of Taiwan. A Heritage Foundation article suggests that the US may have presented a démarche stating among others that:

If the UN Secretariat insists on describing Taiwan as a part of the PRC, or on using nomenclature for Taiwan that implies such status, the United States will be obliged to disassociate itself on a national basis from such position."[2]

Additionally, both the ROC and international newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal have criticized Ban Ki-moon for rejecting the ROC's July 2007 application without passing it on to the Security Council, a violation of the UN's standard procedure,[3] and for erroneously saying that Resolution 2758 stated that Taiwan was part of China.[4] Nevertheless, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's statement reflected long-standing UN convention and is mirrored in other documents promulgated by the United Nations. For example, the UN's "Final Clauses of Multilateral Treaties, Handbook", 2003 (a publication which predated his tenure in Office) states:

[r]egarding the Taiwan Province of China, the Secretary-General follows the General Assembly’s guidance incorporated in resolution 2758 (XXVI)of the General Assembly of 25 October 1971 on the restoration of the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations. The General Assembly decided to recognize the representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations. Hence, instruments received from the Taiwan Province of China will not be accepted by the Secretary-General in his capacity as depositary.[5]

The People's Republic of China in the UN

The PRC gained admission into the UN in 1971. This was the 21st time there was a vote on China's admittance. The U.S. tried to expel the PRC, which required a two-thirds vote, but the motion failed and the PRC was admitted into the UN on a vote of 76 in favor, 35 opposed, and 17 abstentions.[6]

Although the entry of the PRC into the UN was supported by much of the third world with the expectation that it would become an active proponent of the Non-Aligned Movement, critics say that the PRC has had mostly a passive role within the UN since 1971. It has only rarely been an active mover of events within the UN and this occurs mainly when it perceives its national interests to be at stake. The most notable example of this was in the 1990s when the PRC vetoed peacekeeping missions to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Guatemala over these nations' recognition of the ROC.[7][8]

There was wide speculation throughout the 1960s and early 1970s that the United States' close ally, Pakistan, especially under the presidency of Ayub Khan, was carrying out undercover diplomacy to instigate Western support to the PRC's entry into the UN. This involved secret visits by American officials to the PRC. In 1971, Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to the PRC through Pakistan.

The PRC has been sparing in its use of the Security Council veto, only using it six times: in 1972 to veto the admission of Bangladesh (which it considered a rebellious province of its ally Pakistan), in 1973 (in conjunction with the Soviet Union) to veto a resolution on the ceasefire in the Yom Kippur War, in 1997 to veto ceasefire observers to Guatemala (which accepted the ROC as legitimate),[9] in 1999 to veto an extension of observers to the Republic of Macedonia (same),[10] in 2007 (in conjunction with Russia) to veto criticizing Myanmar on its human rights record[11] and in 2008 (with Russia) to veto sanctions against Zimbabwe.[12]

Since its first dispatch of military observers to the United Nations peacekeeping operations in 1990, the PRC has sent 3,362 military personnel to 13 UN peacekeeping operations. In 1999 it sent a team of civilian police to East Timor as part of the UN force there. Also, China sent another team of non-combat military force to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the end of the Cold War, the PRC has notably not attempted to use the UN as a counterbalance against the United States as Russia and France have done. In the 1991 Gulf War resolution, the PRC abstained, and it voted for the ultimatum to Iraq in the period leading up to the Second Gulf War. Most observers believe that the PRC would have abstained had a resolution authorising force against Iraq in 2003 reached the Security Council.[13][14]

When an enlargement of the Security Council was discussed in 1995, PRC encouraged African states to demand their seats as a countermove to Japan's ambitions, thereby killing the initiative.[15]

In human rights issues, the PRC has been increasingly successful at maintaining their positions. In 1995, they won 43 percent of the votes in the General Assembly; by 2006 they won 82 percent.[15]

Recent events with respect to the ROC

Since 1993, the ROC has made attempts to rejoin (or, as worded in its proposals, "to participate in") the UN, but because of the implacable opposition of the PRC, which holds veto power in the Security Council, and the lack of support from member nations, the ROC has consistently been denied. Every year since 1991 the question of the ROC's representation has been raised on the UN agenda committee by its diplomatic allies, but has always failed to get sufficient votes to get on the formal agenda.

Some proponents of Taiwan independence suggest that if the government in Taiwan were formally to renounce its claim to be also the government of mainland China and outer Mongolia, and rename itself the Republic of Taiwan, this new state could then be admitted to the UN. However, if Taiwan were to take this step, the international community would be placed in a difficult position, caught between the PRC's claim that Taiwan is a province of China and the right of the people of Taiwan to self-determination. The resolutions proposing ROC representation since 1991 make it clear that it no longer seeks to represent all of China, but only the people of Taiwan. In the bids to join the UN under President Lee Teng-hui, the ROC called itself the "Republic of China on Taiwan." Under Chen Shui-bian, the designation has been "Republic of China (Taiwan)," and the most recent application by President Chen (July 19, 2007) used only the designation "Taiwan." Chen was quoted saying that "Taiwan is a sovereign state, and should join the United Nations by the name Taiwan".

Skeptics point out that the PRC still has a Security Council veto and would likely be firmly opposed to any kind of international recognition of a Taiwanese state. They also point out that the UN has been reluctant to admit any state whose sovereignty is disputed, although Palestine has been granted observer status. The PRC has condemned any move to enter as "Taiwan" as a political trick to promote Taiwan independence, though it firmly opposes Taiwan's entry under any moniker whatsoever.

Although the ROC no longer actively asserts its claim to be the government of the whole of China, it has not renounced that claim. Taiwan independence supporters argue the ROC not renouncing its claim is mainly because the PRC has publicly stated that any movement to change the ROC constitution would be seen as a move towards declaring independence, and thus a reason for military action. Given the PRC's attitude, even having the General Assembly admit the ROC or "Taiwan" as an observer (as has been done with Palestine) would be problematic. The case of Palestine is distinguishable from that of the ROC, because of the UN's commitment to a two state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, and no such commitment to the Taiwan issue.

The ROC reapplied for full UN membership on Sept. 18, 2007. On September 15, 2007, over 3000 Taiwanese Americans and their supporters rallied in front of UN in New York City to demonstrate their support for the ROC's entering the UN.[16] At the same time, over 300,000 Taiwanese people rallied in Taiwan to make the same plea.[17] The ROC has also won the backing of many Members of the European Parliament on this issue.[18] Spurred on by President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, this recent application has been reputedly more intense and widely received than in past years.

In 2008, two referenda in Taiwan to join the UN failed because of low voter participation (see Republic of China United Nations membership referendum, 2008). The United Nations subcommittee on September 17, 2008, has again ruled it would not let the General Assembly consider the ROC's request for permission to join U.N. activities.[19] However, shortly after the denial at the UN, the United States and the European Union have both expressed their support for the ROC to have "meaningful participation" in UN agencies that would not require statehood, such as the World Health Organization.[20]

In 2009, for the first time in 17 years, Taiwan did not submit a bid to join the United Nations as a member.[21]

See also


  1. ^ San Jose, California, 27 July 2007 - Secretary-General's press encounter with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
  2. ^ Tkacik, John J., Jr. (19 June 2008). "Taiwan's "Unsettled" International Status: Preserving U.S. Options in the Pacific". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2009-07-23.  
  3. ^ Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council, Chapter X, Rule 59
  4. ^ King of the U.N., The Wall Street Journal 2007-08-13
  5. ^ "Final Clauses of Multilateral Treaties, Handbook", United Nations, 2003
  6. ^ "Red China Admitted to UN: 1971 Year in Review,"
  7. ^ Taiwan criticises China UN veto, BBC News, February 26, 1999
  8. ^ The China Veto and the Guatemalan Peace Process, Global Policy Forum, January 20, 1997
  9. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 3730 on 10 January 1997 (retrieved 2007-07-27 page=17)
  10. ^ United Nations Security Council meeting 3982 on 25 February 1999 (retrieved 2007-07-27)
  11. ^ United Nations Security Council meeting 5619 on 12 January 2007 (retrieved 2007-07-27)
  12. ^ Russia, China veto U.N. sanctions on Zimbabwe, CNN, July 12, 2008
  13. ^ Chen, John. (2003). China prepares to fall into line with US war on Iraq, World Socialist Website, February 6, 2003
  14. ^ Woods, Alan. (2002). Iraq - Security Council gives the green light to US aggression,, November 11, 2002
  15. ^ a b Mark Leonard: Deft Moves at the UN, February 6, 2009.
  16. ^ New York rally for United Nations bid draws record numbers, The China Post, September 17, 2007
  17. ^ AFP, September 15, 2007
  18. ^ - Taiwan UN bid wins backing of MEPs
  19. ^, U.N. again throws out Taiwan bid for recognition
  20. ^ Taipei Times, Foreign ministry hails UN support from US and EU
  21. ^

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