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Taiwan Reapplies for UN Participation

  • Ralph Jennings

FILE - Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen inspects honor guard before a ceremony to mark the 92nd anniversary of the Whampoa Military Academy, in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, June 16, 2016.

FILE - Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen inspects honor guard before a ceremony to mark the 92nd anniversary of the Whampoa Military Academy, in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, June 16, 2016.

Taiwan has asked its diplomatic allies to send the United Nations secretary-general a letter requesting participation in three U.N. agencies, an unusually aggressive application that answers domestic pressure for more international achievements, but one that is sure to be rejected by China.

The foreign ministry said Tuesday the letter would ask that Taiwan participate in the World Health Organization, the air security-focused International Civil Aviation Organization and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Taiwan can contribute to all three “for the overall good of the world,” the ministry said in a statement. Taiwan also wants to join U.N. members in trying by 2030 to reach the body’s Sustainable Development Goals, which cover reductions in extreme poverty and greater climate change controls.

Rejection expected

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s first U.N. application, the most aggressive in seven years, will inevitably be rejected because of opposition from China. Beijing officials see self-ruled Taiwan not as a country with rights to U.N. membership, rather part of their own territory. They insist China and Taiwan eventually unify despite opinion surveys that show most Taiwanese oppose it.

Taiwan, under the legal name Republic of China, withdrew from the United Nations in 1971 as the much larger China was gaining diplomatic clout. China now has more than 170 diplomatic allies compared to Taiwan’s 22, giving it wide-ranging influence in today’s international body.

“This effort isn’t going to have any real result,” Wu Chung-li, political science research fellow at Academia Sinica in Taipei, said of the U.N. bid. “It’s a symbolic issue.”

Previous unsuccessful U.N. attempts

Former Taiwan presidents have also applied for readmission to the United Nations. Chen Shui-bian, who ruled from 2000 to 2008, had requested membership in the full organization. His successor, ex-president Ma Ying-jeou, set his sights on the aviation, climate change and health agencies. In 2009, as ties warmed with China, Taiwan was granted observer status in the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly.

Tsai takes a more guarded view toward China than Ma, putting Taiwan-China relations on hold because of disputes over dialogue preconditions -- after eight years of brisk talks and the signing of 23 cross-strait deals.

Voters want more active foreign policy

But the U.N. bid this year answers a growing call from Taiwanese voters for foreign policy achievements under Tsai, who took office May 20. Her approval ratings fell 14 percentage points to 56 percent over the first two months due partly to frustration over lack of foreign policy moves, according to reports by local media that conducted the surveys.

Tsai is keen to oblige public demand so her approval ratings rise and she can leverage them to get more done, said Shane Lee, political scientist at Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan.

“Generally people are very impatient now. Doing something like showing your attempt to get into international organizations or whatever would identify Taiwan as a sovereign state would be a plus for public opinion,” he said. “But it’s the objective conditions that are not there and particularly the Chinese attitude (in the United Nations) has not changed.”

The government called on the U.N. itself to give its requests full consideration.

“Our request is very clear and practical and the U.N. should think clearly about how Taiwan can get involved in the sustainable millennium goals and together, for the good of all people, strive to develop while sustaining our existence,” the foreign ministry told VOA in a statement.

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