UN Head Criticized for Saying Taiwan Is 'Part of China'

Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT
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(CNSNews.com) - As Taiwan pursues its campaign for recognition in the international community, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has come under fire for stating that a 1971 U.N. resolution says Taiwan is a part of China.

General Assembly resolution 2758 gave the U.N.'s "China" seat -- held up to that point by the nationalist Republic of China (ROC) government located in Taipei, Taiwan -- to the communist People's Republic of China (PRC) government in Beijing. The resolution did not pass judgment on the status of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a rebel province.

Thirty-six years after losing its seat, the Taiwanese government last month submitted an application to join the U.N. under the name "Taiwan," having failed on 14 previous occasions when applying under the name "ROC."

(Applying as the "ROC," Taipei officials said, recalled an earlier era when the nationalist Chinese in Taiwan claimed all of China; now, the application is being made on behalf of a self-governing democracy of 23 million people, altogether independent of China.)

Nonetheless, the U.N. Secretariat rejected the latest application, and in an explanation of the decision, Ban cited resolution 2758.

The resolution, he said, stipulated 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."

But Ban got it wrong, experts pointed out. While the resolution recognized the PRC as the only legitimate representative of China at the U.N., it "said nothing at all about Taiwan being part of China," noted American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Gary Schmitt in an article posted Monday.

The Taiwan-based China Post said in an editorial that Ban's interpretation had "made quite a stir here" and "raised many eyebrows."

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian wrote to Ban again, pointing out the error.

Chen also noted that according to U.N. rules, "only the Security Council and the General Assembly have the authority to review and decide on U.N. membership applications. The UN Secretariat does not have the power to decide on such matters."

The letter was returned, however. Ban spokeswoman Marie Okabe said the correspondence from Taiwan "could not be received" due to resolution 2758, and was therefore returned by the U.N.'s office of legal affairs.

"Resolution 2758, which was adopted in 1971, is the basis of the one-China policy of the United Nations," she said.

Chen is preparing to hold a referendum on the issue of joining the U.N., to take place alongside presidential elections next March. His spokesman, David Lee, said the U.N.'s response would not affect the plan, and Vice President Annette Lu said in Taipei Monday democratic countries had no reason to oppose a referendum.

Beijing strongly opposes the referendum, and the U.S. government is also against what State Department spokesman Sean McCormack last month called "any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally."

The referendum planned by Chen, McCormack said, "would have no practical impact on Taiwan's UN status, [but] it would increase tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is of vital interest to the people of Taiwan and serves U.S. security interests as well."

'Getting away with bullying'

Critics of such a policy, however, argue that the U.S. is ignoring the rights of an ally while bowing to the dictates of a notoriously touchy Beijing.

"Regretfully, [President] Bush has failed to openly take the U.N. secretary-general to account for Ban's endorsement of Beijing's attempt to annex Taiwan and may thus be betraying his own stated ideals of 'promoting democracy around the world,' " Taiwan News said in an editorial Monday.

"Giving the people of Taiwan their due seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind these days," said Schmitt. "Rather, placating Beijing by letting it dictate what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to Taiwan's international personality is the order of the day.

"Yet doing so only reinforces in China's mind that it can get away with bullying Taiwan every chance it gets -- which in turn feeds Taiwan's need to push back, if for no other reason than national self-respect," he said.

China frequently and energetically moves to deny Taiwan recognition in the international arena. In the latest such incident, China formally protested to Japan when Taiwan's national anthem was played at an Asia basketball championship last week.

Beijing has also blocked Chen's choice of an official to represent Taiwan at an Asia-Pacific summit in Australia next month, which Bush is also due to attend.

Taiwan is able to participate in Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits at all only because APEC comprises "economies" rather than nations. But China objects to Taiwanese presidents attending, and therefore the president has to appoint a representative. This time, Chen's appointee did not meet with China's approval.

"Unless Washington begins to take a more assertive position in helping Taiwan find its space on the international stage, it can count on being caught up in a cycle of Taiwan Strait crises that are getting no less dangerous for all involved," Schmitt argued.

He said a good first step would be for the State Department to tell Ban that he should clarify his remarks.

'Live up to principles of human rights, democracy'

The Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a Taiwan lobby group, sent a letter to Ban criticizing his decision and his assertion that the U.N. considers Taiwan to be "part of China."

The association pointed an earlier international document, the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951-52, which said the status of Taiwan -- newly liberated from Imperial Japanese occupation -- should be determined "in due time, in accord with the purposes and principles as laid down in the Charter of the U.N." FAPA said this referred to self-determination.

Taiwan's democratic government, it said, "clearly reflected the wishes of the large majority of the people on the island when it submitted its application for U.N. membership to you."

"We urge you to live up to the basic principles of human rights, democracy and self-determination which lay at the foundation of the establishment of the United Nations, reconsider your position, and facilitate the entry of Taiwan into the United Nations," FAPA president C.T. Lee wrote to Ban.

"The Taiwanese people have worked long and hard for their democracy, freedom and independence, and should gain a full and equal place among the international family of nations," he said.

China has vowed to use force, if necessary, to prevent Taiwan from formally splitting away. Official media quoted Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan as saying last week, on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army, that the PLA would "absolutely not allow Taiwan to secede from China under any pretext or in any manner."

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