China is making efforts to block Taiwan from the United Nations that run deep into the organization’s bureaucracy, systematically blocking Taiwanese from engaging with the international organization, according to a German Marshall Fund report.
The March 24 report claims China has made use of tools such as specialized funding schemes, signing memoranda of understanding and strategic hires as U.N. staff to keep Taiwan out of the international body, even though the U.N. has made no official ruling on Taiwan’s political status.
Taiwan, with a population of 23.5 million, is neither a member nor observer at the U.N. because of the objections of China, which claims Taiwan as a province. In the past, it has been given observer status at some bodies, such as the World Health Organization, but since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 it has been blocked by Beijing.
These methods have kept “NGOs, civil society representatives, and even high schools, from accessing UN resources or attending U.N.-organized forums and events if Taiwan features on their websites or organization materials as ‘Taiwan,’ as opposed to ‘Taiwan, Province of China.’” the written report said.
Individuals may be barred from entering the U.N. without identification issued from Beijing, even though they have Taiwanese passports or ID cards.
Beijing’s policies have also been enforced by the growing number of Chinese staff in U.N. agencies, who numbered 1,300 in 2019, the report said. Many Chinese nationals also hold "senior positions across UN funds and programs, its principal organs, and other UN-affiliated international organizations."
At the crux of the issue, the report said, is how China has used a 50-year-old U.N. resolution to promote its sovereignty claims. Formally known as the Republic of China, Taiwan’s government fled from mainland China the island in the late 1940s, after losing the Chinese Civil War to the Communist Party.
The ROC government held the seat of “China” at the U.N. until 1971, when its one-party state was expelled from the U.N. under Resolution 2578, as many countries became less comfortable with Taipei representing hundreds of millions of Chinese in continental Asia.
Resolution 2578 has instead become synonymous with Beijing’s policy that “there is only one China in the world, Taiwan is a part of China and the government of [China] is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.”
The text of the resolution, however, mentions neither Taiwan, the Republic of China, nor any definition of China. Instead, refers simply to the expulsion of the “Chiang Kai-shek regime,” which at the time headed Taiwan as a one-party authoritarian state.
In the years since the resolution passed, however, China has become a major global power while Taiwan shifted to democracy and all but dropped its claims to represent China. Many countries, such as the United States, have supported Taiwan’s further inclusion at the U.N. for this reason.
“Chiang Kai-shek passed away in 1975, 47 years ago,” said James Lin, a historian specializing in Taiwanese history at the University of Washington. “Since then, Taiwan has undergone a 180-degree turn after democratization and decolonization, with the ordinary Taiwanese fully dismantling the authoritarian laws, institutions, and controls from the Chiang era. Taiwan today does not claim to represent China, which was the original historical context that 2758 ruled on.”
Concerned that democratic Taiwan is now acting in less predictable ways, Beijing has worked to retroactively change U.N. documents and signed agreements with U.N. bodies, that were not made public, to limit Taiwan’s access, the report further noted.
They range from barring Taiwan as an observer to the International Civil Aviation Organization to requiring that Taiwan be referred to as “Taiwan, Province of China’” by the International Organization for Standardization, an international organization that works with the U.N.
Many of these agreements have not been made public, the report said, but a leaked 2005 memorandum of understanding between Beijing and WHO details how the health organization should interact with Taiwan and channel any communication through Chinese representatives.
The MOU, included in the report’s appendix, includes requirements that Taiwanese experts must be invited to WHO through the Permanent Mission of China in Geneva, while WHO can only send staff to Taiwan below the level of director.
Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO and its governing World Health Assembly came under scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan says it was one of the first to raise alarm about the virus based on its experience containing the similar and highly contagious SARS virus 20 years ago.
Taiwan, however, has been barred from attending meetings during the pandemic. In 2020, Taiwan also claimed that WHO ignored an early warning that the virus could be transmitted between humans, although in the media, WHO has disputed the contents of its communication with Taiwan.
China is not the first country to try to block recognition of a disputed territory. The Palestinian territories and Kosovo have been blocked from formal recognition at the U.N. by Israel and Serbia, even though they have found broad support among other members.
These two campaigns, however, have been conducted largely in public, said Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University whose research includes China and international law, while China has worked hard behind the scenes.
Ku said what is unusual about China is the way it has leveraged its influence publicly and more quietly within the U.N.
"China is unique, because it’s a [Security Council] member, it has a very singular focus on one issue, and then they’ve been really focused on the U.N. agencies that are kind of flying below the radar for a lot of the public,” he said.