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A nation must think before it acts.
Editor’s Note: The People’s Republic of China asserts that UN General Assembly Resolution 2758—which gave Beijing the “Chinese seat” at the United Nations—adopts the country’s “One China Principle” and that member states thereby accepted that Taiwan is a part of China. With the annual UN General Assembly session underway and with China having issued an August 2022 “White Paper” on Taiwan issues, FPRI’s Asia Program hosted an online event on September 26 that took up these issues with Bonnie S. Glaser, the Director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Jessica Drun, a Nonresident Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub; and Jacques deLisle, the Director of the Asia Program at FPRI and Stephen A. Cozen Professor of Law and professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Carol Rollie Flynn:
Good afternoon. I’m Rollie Flynn. I’m the president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute based in Philadelphia. Today we have a distinguished panel that is going to discuss the implications of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. That’s the resolution that gives and designates the China seat at the UN. We’re also going to be talking about China’s August 2022 white paper on Taiwan issues. And here to moderate our panel is Jacques deLisle, who many of you know who is the director of our Asia program here at FPRI.
He is also the professor of political science, professor of law—that’s the Stephen A. Cozen Professor of Law and Political Science. He’s also the director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania. We’ll also be taking your questions today. So if you’ll look at the bottom of your screen, you’ll see a Q&A box.
Please put your questions in there and start feeding them to us as soon as you think of them because I think Jacques sometimes draws on them in his moderation of the panel. So also like before I turn it over to Jacques to give a hardy thank you to our board and our supporters and our members. We can’t do this without you. I’m fond of saying it’s free to you, but it’s not free to us. So please, if you’re not in one of those giving categories, consider doing so. So without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Jacques.
Well thank you Rollie and thank you everyone for joining us today for I think it’s going to be a terrific discussion on a very timely topic. I’m going to briefly introduce our two panelists and then we’ll get to the meat of our discussion here today. Bonnie Glaser is director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Before that, she was for many years at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where she was senior advisor for Asia and director of the China Power Project. Also senior advisor with the Freeman Chair in China studies and a senior associate in CSIS’ international security program. And before that she served as a consultant for US government departments, including defense and state. You can find her work in places like the Washington Quarterly, China Quarterly, Asian Survey, International Security, and other journals in the field.
You can frequently find her voted in major newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post. She also writes regularly for the Comparative Connections Journal of the Pacific Forum. But more to the point, she’s one of the leading analysts, top handful of leading analysts of Taiwan issues, cross-Strait issues and China security issues. And it’s terrific to have her joining us here today.
Joining Bonnie and me is Jessica Drun, who is a non-resident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s global China hub. Before that, she was a non-resident fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and a China analyst at SOS International Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. She’s also worked at the National Bureau of Asian Research, the National Defense University and CSIS. She too works on cross street relations, Taiwan domestic politics and US Taiwan relations and she’s a rising young star in the field. So we get both the established stars and the new ones to discuss this topic today.
We’re coming up on the 51st anniversary of the resolution that we’re going to be discussing today that Raleigh mentioned in her introduction. And I also recommend to everybody the report that Bonnie and Jessica put out of with the German Marshall Fund of the United States called the distortion of UN resolution 2758 and limits on Taiwan’s access to the United Nations, which obviously is quite close to our topic today. So if you want to a little bit of a deeper dive into some aspects that we’re going to talk about, I recommend you look at that report. You can find the link to it in the chat section on the Zoom page that you’ve got on your screens now.
So let’s begin. For those who may not be into the arcania of general assembly resolutions and how they matter for Taiwan and its international participation, let’s begin with the big question here of giving us just a quick view of what UN general resolution 2758 is and what it did in terms of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China’s engagement with the United Nations. I’ll turn to Jessica for that.
Thank you. It’s great to be here. So in 1971, UN member states voted on UN resolution 2758. The language of the resolution itself is very short. It simply says that the representatives of Chiang Kai-Shek will no longer be holding the China seat at the UN, I’m paraphrasing here. It’s important to note that the language of the resolution does not mention the words Taiwan. So at that point in time, if you look at the meeting minutes of what the member states were discussing, as well as a number of resolutions that were initially on the table. So there were originally I think seven resolutions as well as a number of amendments that member states would be voting on. They decided to only vote on what ended up becoming UN resolution 2058. So the resolutions considered did include ones that would come to a final determination on Taiwan’s status at the UN.
However those were tabled, which essentially tabled that issue at the UN level. This is all also reflected in what the member states were saying when they were voting in the official record. They said that the only determination would be who the PRC or the RRC would hold the China seat at the UN. The status of Taiwan is not up for question. And perhaps most importantly, this was also reflected in Chinese viewpoints at the time.
In a conversation between Zhou Enlai Henry Kissinger, prior to the vote, Zhou Enlai told Kissinger that if the resolution proceeds as it is currently framed, the status of Taiwan is not yet decided. So at that point in time, the question was simply who would hold the China seat at the UN. But we’ve seen China push a creeping narrative over the past 50 years, more so in the past 20 years that essentially says that UN resolution 2758 substantiates its one China principle. And we’ve seen this push starting more or less than the 2000s.
So prior to that they wouldn’t mention UN resolution 2758 in the same sentence as the one China principle. In the early 2000 you started to see them say it separate in the same sentence as UN resolution 2758 and the one China principle. And most recently you’ve started to see them tie it together by saying that UN resolution 2758 affirms or confirms the one China principle. And that’s the language that they’re using today and that’s the language that they used in the most recent white paper.
Okay, thanks. That’s a terrific overview. And we should probably also point out that 2758 occurred after several years of the United States and others pushing back against switching the Chinese seat. It had been declared an important question. So we saw this movement as your paper goes into in some detail, saw this movement toward more and more states at the UN being willing to support the swap in seats and it came to that. And then you’ve given us a quick overview of the details since then. So I want to turn to Bonnie to follow up on the last bit of Jessica’s remarks, which is how exactly has Beijing tried to affect the interpretation of 2758 and other related UN documents. We’ve got a WHO parallel resolution and many other sources that get into this question of China’s and Taiwan’s status. So how has China tried to manipulate this in terms of keeping Taiwan out the United Nations and out of international space more generally?
Bonnie S. Glaser:
Well thanks Jacques. I want to build on what Jessica has just said and start by defining what the one China principle is because Beijing says this is their position that there is one China in the world, that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory and that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China. And US policy, which we of course we have a one China policy. We do accept that the PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, but the United States and importantly many other key countries in the world, Japan, Canada, Australia, just to name a few, do not say that Taiwan is part of China or part of the PRC. So what we’ve seen Beijing do is to distort the original text of resolution 2758 to conflate the one China principle with the resolution itself.
And I want to quote from the white paper, which the Chinese just released over one month ago, where they said that the resolution settled once and for all the political, legal and procedural issues of China’s represented representation in the UN and it covered the whole country including Taiwan. Obviously this is false because resolution 2758 did not say that Taiwan is part of the PRC.
Further, the white paper states that resolution 2758 is a political document encapsulating the one China principle whose legal authority leaves no room for doubt and has been acknowledged worldwide. But again, it has not been acknowledged and embraced by the 193 member states of the UN. So essentially the Chinese say that Taiwan doesn’t really have the right to participate in international organizations. Although it’s interesting, just a few days ago, foreign minister Wang Yi was speaking at the Asia Society in New York and he said Taiwan should not be allowed to join any international organizations with sovereign implications.
I mean that’s actually pretty similar to the policy of the United States, which is that Taiwan should be allowed to join international organizations that don’t require sovereignty for membership and should meaningful participation in international organizations that do require sovereignty.
Neither the United States nor Taiwan are pushing for Taiwan to become a member of the UN. And yet China is making it difficult for Taiwan to even participate, which of course it used to because when Ma Ying-jeou was president in Taiwan, China did allow Taiwan to become an observer at the World Health Assembly and allowed Taiwan to send one delegation as a guest of the president of the International Civil Aviation Committee, organization, the ICUA.
So I think as our report published earlier this year, there are these instances even where UN documents have been revised to advance the PRC’s positions, we discovered two international telecommunication union documents, one from 2001 from 2017 that used to say Taiwan in the original versions, but that word has now been changed to Taiwan, province of China. And there are even instances where NGOs have been threatened to have their UN access and accreditation restricted if they don’t comply with Beijing’s demand to use Taiwan, province of China. So this is something that as Jessica said, has evolved from the nineties to the 2000s and now has become a very strict policy that China has a clear assertion that UN resolution 2758 establish, established the one China principle in the United Nations. And very few countries are willing to stand up and say that that’s not so.
Let’s just pick up that last point, which is why so many countries are not willing to say that that’s not so. And we certainly have seen over the decades from the seventies onward of more and more countries, more and more governments switching diplomatic ties, formal ties from Taipei to Beijing, overwhelming number of countries do that. A very small handful retained formal ties with Taipei and those have started shrinking again since Tsai Ing-wen became president. But there are a lot of countries that don’t have a lot of skin in the game. They do not have an obvious reason to be on either side of this. So why has Beijing been so successful? And what tactics has it used to achieve that kind of success? Is it simply the matter of China’s, the PRC’s scale and importance? Or do we see them using particular tactics to get other countries to to side with their positions, [inaudible 00:13:38].
Jessica, you want to go first?
Sure. So I would say two points. The first is that general understanding of Taiwan in the global community is probably not where it should be. So a lot of countries don’t fully understand the nuance in the different one China policies, as Bonnie has highlighted. But China is also in a way squeezed acceptable discourse on Taiwan through mechanisms such as what it’s doing with UN resolution 2758. And there’s a mutually reinforcing element here. By using UN resolution 58 and conflating it with the one China principle, they’re saying this is essentially an international norm. And then they try to force this onto other countries to accept the one China principle, to say that the one China principal is an international norm, therefore your space for action must abide by the one China principle. And it then also conflating country’s one China principles with one China policies.
At the same time, around the time of the resolution, China was very good at pitching an anti-colonial narrative to get support from countries from the global south. And that has continued to this day. But we’re seeing that they’re applying it in a different way. Instead of sharing a common narrative of anti-colonialism, anti imperialism, they’re also applying pressure to smaller countries that might otherwise be willing to speak up in regards to Taiwan at the UN. And we’ve seen this, we feature it in our report where some African diplomats said that if they insofar as mentioned voting in support of Taiwan or bringing up the issue, then they’re home embassies or they’re home governments send a message to the UN saying that China is essentially threatening to withhold economic benefits.
And just to pick up on one of your points there, this sort of international norm business there, essentially it’s one of the many arrows in the quiver of China’s lawfare. This claim that the way we figure out what international norms, including ones with legal significance, the way we figure out they exist is to look at the practice of states and there’s obviously not a lot of tangible practice on this sort of thing. So it’s what states say.
And as you get more and more countries either signing onto this position or at least acquiescing in China saying what it says, the argument sort of crystallizes into this view and then Taiwan is stuck with it. And there’s also the bit of this flavor, we’ve seen this with the universal Declaration of Human rights in a rather different way, where it’s being portrayed by China, and correct me if I’m wrong in this, but it’s being portrayed by China as if it’s almost an authoritative interpretation of 2758 by the countries that signed onto it.
It’s a resolution arguably ambiguous in its language, but if everybody who voted for it years later says, oh yeah, we think it means X, where X is China’s version of the one China principle, then they’ve kind of accomplished a neat and fairly common international legal trick to say, poof, Taiwan has no claim to exist separate from the PRC. So I want to look back to something Bonnie said and of course feel free to follow up on what I just said if you want, but look back to something Bonnie said about Wang Yi’s interesting statements, which did sound a little softer edged perhaps in some ways.
So what does that then leave open to Taiwan? Does it leave open the possibility say of both parties, applications to the CPP TPP being allowed to go forward without China blocking Taiwan’s undertaking? Does it suggest maybe that we might in the future see some relaxation of China’s recent refusal to allow Taiwan to participate in UN meeting organizations or is that just overly optimistic? Bonnie.
I think that it has been clear for some time that Beijing has preconditions for Taiwan’s participation in UN affiliated organizations. So they do not oppose under all circumstances participation. But Taiwan must go back to its acceptance that Taiwan and mainland China belong to the same country, which was at the core of the 1992 consensus that was reached between the representatives of Taiwan, then ruled of course by the KMT, and the representatives from Beijing.
And so if there were a future leader in Taiwan who returned to that 1992 consensus or some version of it that accepted that the two sides of the Strait are part of one country that would satisfy that precondition and then the two sides of the Strait could have a discussion about what are the circumstances under which Taiwan could participate in a particular organization.
And of course, as you know, some UN organizations have charters that have observer status like the World Health Assembly, others do not. And so there is no one size fits all answer to Taiwan’s participation in UN organizations. And that serves China’s interest of course, because they would want to negotiate each one with Taipei. But under the current government in Taiwan, and I would speculate under any DPP government, this is all a moot point. Because there would be no acceptance of the 1992 consensus and China would continue to block any form of participation by Taiwan in the United Nations and any of its organizations.
Yeah, a fair point. And so we’re back to essentially the conditions that China laid down when Tsai Ing-wen became president after her first election in 2016, the ’92 consensus and the one China principle. But even in the hey days of cross-Strait rapprochement under Ma Taiwan’s observer status in the WHO wasn’t really within grasp either. It was the sort of ad hoc, show up and participate in the annual assembly with the annual invitation conditioned on the kinds of restrictions we’ve been talking about here. Jessica, did you want to weigh in on this point?
Sorry. I guess I would just add, I know Bonnie touched a bit on the memorandums of understanding that China has secretly signed with at least one that we know of specialized agencies with the UN. And this one is the World Health Organization. That essentially in the language of the MOU, which we don’t have full eyes on because it’s not public, but we’ve been able to get insights on what it entails based on implementation memos that have been leaked. It essentially in practice puts Taiwan subordinate to the PRC within this organization. Because it says that any coordination with Taiwan through the WHO must be channeled through PRC government organization. So we’re seeing kind of the one China principle in practice and institutionalized at the UN level.
Yes. And particularly striking of course is not only the secret MOU, but as you point out in your report the rewriting of some prior documents. That reminds me of an old Soviet joke that in the Soviet Union, the future is certain, it’s the past that’s always changing. And we’re seeing a little bit of that here perhaps.
Now I want to pick up on another thread here, which is of course you’ve done this deep dive into the UN, which is the most important international organization and particularly 2758 was a big deal because one of the permanent five veto wielding power shifts and all that, but China’s real prize here is to advance unification of Taiwan or at least to prevent any further slipping away. So could you speak a little bit to why this UN fracas that we’ve been talking about matters for China’s ultimate prize here. Which is at minimum marginalizing Taiwan internationally so that it’s not in a position to claim much separate state life status. And ideally and perhaps increasingly consistently to make some kind of progress for identification. How does this advance that agenda?
Well I think it’s quite dangerous from Beijing’s perspective if there are members of the international community that do not support China’s one China principle and this core that Taiwan is actually part of China. So I think it’s a matter of preventing any legal recognition by any countries and of course particularly by the United States. To lend any legitimacy to Taiwan’s claim to be an independent sovereign state. I think that’s a large part of it.
I think that the Chinese view this as a slippery slope. That if Taiwan were allowed to be an observer in one organization, it would then lead to others and then one day they would wake up and there would be a large number of countries in the United Nations that would say, “Well wait a minute, Taiwan seems like a normal state. It’s participating in all of these organizations separately from the People’s Republic of China.” And increasingly states would conduct their relations with Taiwan in a way that seemed to recognize it as a separate state.
So I think that China is very nervous about beginning to move down that path and they probably believe that the United States actually has a hidden agenda of promoting Taiwan’s participation in the international community in order to advance its status as an independent sovereign state. Even though of course the United States says, and President Biden has reaffirmed, the United States does not support Taiwan independence. Nonetheless, I think that the Chinese view support for Taiwan’s participation in the international community as just one step removed from that and they want to prevent it from happening. So I think that’s the primary reason that the Chinese are so adamantly opposed to allowing Taiwan any kind of a voice in the United Nations.
Okay. That’s a partial answer to one of the questions we’ve got in the chat and I do want to encourage people listening in to submit more questions for the Q&A function. But one of our questioners in that space asks why does China seem to be caring much more recently about moving forward on unification? Is that something they’ve always wanted but just couldn’t achieve power… Didn’t have the capability to push. Or is a current regime changing priority. So Bonnie’s given us the important part of the answer that says this is almost a somewhat defensive move, at least vis-a-vis China’s ultimate goal that is prevent things which impede that progress of fear that Taiwan will slip away. Is there anything else we should have on the list of explaining why China seems to have ratcheted up pressure a bit? Jessica, do you want to speak to that and I’ll give Bonnie a chance to weigh again.
Sure. So I would say two points. The first is that with deepening US-Taiwan relations, especially some of the actions from the previous administration, China’s viewing it as the US hollowing out its one China policy and moving away from what they view as longstanding agreements between Beijing and Washington.
The second is the DPP inherently makes Beijing nervous because of the perception that they’re separatists and pro-independent, even though the current administration has stressed that it’s pro-status quo. This is fundamental because the DPP is unable to come to a common one China baseline with the PRC. And in that case any sort of direct contact is a non-starter for Beijing. And to that point, domestic political trends in Taiwan in terms of how closely Taiwanese identification ties in with party preferences is also trending away from Taiwan’s preferred outcomes. So we’re seeing now from public opinion polls that the vast majority of Taiwanese, I don’t have the numbers in front of me, identify as uniquely Taiwanese instead of both Taiwanese and Chinese or as uniquely Chinese. And that tends to track with how domestic politics will go in the future.
Yeah, that polling trend has been quite interesting as we’ve seen this diminution to near zero of only Chinese identity. And there was a time of course when saying you were Taiwanese or at least both Taiwanese and Chinese translated into some degree of support for formal independence. Now those two lines are diverged, identity is way up, but support for declarations of formal independence is down. Which I think it’s probably a testament to the realism [inaudible 00:27:36] pointed out of people in Taiwan. And so from the mainland perspective that this drift is a concern. You’ve put the sort of popular opinion data behind it. Bonnie, do you want to weigh back in on this question?
Yes, I do. I think that there is something to the point that as China has amassed greater power capabilities, that China has become less patient about achieving its goals. This is of course a of part of their propaganda. But it has been led by Xi Jingping himself where he said at the last party congress in October of 2017 that reunification is a requirement for national rejuvenation. The target date for which of course he set for the middle of this century.
So I think that this has really not been bottom up in China. I think it’s the people that have been indoctrinated with the importance of the return of the last major piece of China that has yet to be reintegrated into the country. After the full return of Hong Kong there was not a lot of pressure, but under Xi Jingping think that he has pushed for reunification even more.
But ultimately he has not said that it has to be done by force. He emphasizes a great deal that peaceful reunification is still China’s preference as to the way to actually achieve that integration of Taiwan with the mainland. But although some people do talk about there being earlier deadlines, some have talked about 2027 as a deadline, for example. We have not seen that in any authoritative Chinese writings that China has not said that it even has to have the military capabilities to seize and control Taiwan by 2027. So 2027 is a deadline for acquiring military capabilities, but it hasn’t been connected explicitly with the mission of seizing and controlling Taiwan. So some of what you read I think just doesn’t reflect what China has actually said.
Fair enough. And a couple of striking things seem to me out of the white paper were the linking, it’s been in prior statements, but it’s put formally there, the linking of the national rejuvenation project with the territorial recovery. I mean it’s Xi Jingping’s big thing. And now getting back Taiwan is quite explicitly linked. We always knew it was a goal, but now it’s essentially a declaration of we can’t achieve the number one goal unless this step along the way is part of it.
The other thing I thought was that the one country two systems model as described in the white paper is a little less generous partly because of the tone and some of the assurances that have previously been there being dropped. But also partly because it was said in this rather tone deaf characterization of how well the one country two systems model has worked in Hong Kong, which of course has made it less attractive in Taiwan.
But I wanted to get to one other factor that people sometimes cite as driving China’s somewhat more assertive posture on this in recent years and that is that it’s a reaction to US policy. And you both alluded to this a little bit, but I want to dig a little deeper into that. I agree with Bonnie’s implicit suggestion that maybe in policy discussions in the US there’s too much an inference from can implies will. That is if China develops the capacity, it will then perfunctorily use it or promptly use it to achieve its goal. But again, part of this surely is the US China dynamic now. And if what I want to ask you both is has the US been handling this issue well? the question of Taiwan’s engagement in the UN and maybe a bit more broadly internationally. Well let’s start with the UN focus.
As your report details the US issued a non-paper in 2007 that pushed back against China’s efforts to reinterpret 2758. I laid down some pretty clear markers. And this was partly prompted by secretaries general of the UN drifting in the direction of China’s interpretation. And we’ve seen the US supporting, and I think it’s fair to say in the last few years being a little louder in support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations.
We’ve seen Congress get into the act in a way we hadn’t seen in years past with bills not just proposed but actually passing that encourage US closer contacts to Taiwan generally, but specifically support for participation in international organizations and a degree of carrots and sticks approaches to other countries that do or do not keep or sever or make diplomatic ties with Taiwan. And of course there’s the series of statements by President Biden, we’ve got four of them now on the US commitment to defend Taiwan and two on the question of Taiwan’s self-determination on the autonomous or separate statehood questions. So there’s a whole bunch there. Feel free to swing in whichever pinata you prefer. I guess I’ll start with Bonnie on this then go to Jessica.
Well I’m going to start with the narrow question of support for Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations and then we can branch out from there. And I do want to remind your listeners that the deputy assistant Secretary of State Rick Waters about a year ago stated in a public event which we held at the German Marshall Fund. He said that the PRC has misused resolution 2758 to prevent Taiwan’s meaningful participation.
And he said that Taiwan’s exclusion from UN activities creates an immense cost to the nation as well as to the members of the UN. And he said that Beijing is denying the international community the ability to gain valuable contributions that Taiwan offers. And I thought it was a very important but actually quite rare statement by a US official. The US has very rarely, publicly said that Beijing is distorting this resolution 2758 and very rarely pushes back on China’s efforts to embed the one China principle in the United Nations.
And I think that the United States should make clear that its support for Taiwan and the UN has nothing to do with emboldening Taiwan to pursue Taiwan independence, which it certainly does not. Perhaps there are things the US could do to reassure China that our support for Taiwan and its participation in things like the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization or Interpol or things like that is not a step toward backing Taiwan’s independence.
But all of that is very difficult Against the background of a series of very inconsistent and confusing statements and actions by the Biden administration. It would take me a very long time to catalog all of them. But things like taking down the webpage from the State department and taking out the sentence that says the United States doesn’t support Taiwan independence and then later putting it back in. Or having the Secretary of State probably mistakenly twice referred to Taiwan as a country. In the Trump administration, Taiwan was referred to as a country in a defense department document.
So there’s just been inconsistencies. And so there is an enormous effort by the Biden administration, I think correctly, to try and strengthen deterrence to prevent China from actually using force against Taiwan. But people seem to forget that a component of deterrence is reassurance. And if there is no reassurance to China or inadequate reassurance that actually our one China policy is intact and it means that there are limits to what we will do in supporting Taiwan, then I think that we are headed down a dangerous path.
Okay, thanks. Jessica.
Sure. Yeah. To add to Bonnie’s points, I think over the Ma administration, the US stayed silent on Chinese influence at the UN in regards to Taiwan and even then even under a common one China ’92 consensus baseline, China was still squeezing Taiwan’s international space in different ways.
As we highlight in our report during the Ma administration, there were Taiwanese citizens trying to enter UN facilities, be it for specialized conferences focused on science or technology and they were kept out the door saying that the Taiwanese passports were unacceptable.
I think in recent years with the Global Pandemic there has been, as you mentioned, a surge for Taiwan’s meaningful participation at the WHA. But I would say there was a piece in The Diplomat recently by Taiwan’s Minister of Transportation Communications that is talking about how Taiwan needs greater backing to have a seat at the table at the International Civil Aviation Organization. And I’m not seeing the same level of support there, even though in his piece he highlights how after Pelosi’s visits with the increase in military activities around Taiwan and closer to Taiwan, that it has left the Taiwan flight information region, which doesn’t receive direct communications from ICAO with its work cut out for it having to redirect flights to ensure safety for commercial aviation. And I think that’s something that the US and like-minded countries and allies can do more on.
Yeah, we have a question in the chat that overlaps with some of what you both have just said, but I want to put it specifically to see if you have anything to add. This is from Voice of America China branch reporter Tina Chan. And she says, “Does the issue of Taiwan’s meaningful participation at the UN, is it gaining more support? Wang Yi’s speech suggests once again that China claims it is the sole legal representation of China, all of China including Taiwan under 2758. What we haven’t seen this year, she asks, “Are actions similar to last year’s by the US or other like-minded countries such as Secretary Blinken’s statement urging the countries to support Taiwan’s participation at the UN? Is this a correct view that this support is waned somewhat? If so, why?” Whoever wants to take a crack.
I’m not clear on everything that the United States has said, but I think that behind the scenes the United States does encourage other countries to support Taiwan’s participation in the international community. I will speculate, and this is only speculation, that in the aftermath of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan that there is a high level of anxiety in the US government. Obviously China is very concerned about the possibility of the Taiwan Policy Act passing or some of its provisions. And there is a greater sense of caution to not be perhaps provoking China at this particular juncture. I don’t think that there is diminished US support for Taiwan’s participation in the international community. But I think we are in somewhat sensitive and maybe sort of fragile period.
Waiting for things to calm down perhaps a bit after the Pelosi visit and the Chinese reaction, which was quite a reaction as we all know. Although those were not… Other things going on there too. Sorry Jessica, do you want to weigh in on this point?
I would just say, and I don’t have timelines in front of me, oftentimes US support and support from allies and partners comes whenever there is a critical meeting. Such as of the World Health Organization in which time there will be statements in support of Taiwan’s participation within that specific organization. But I’m not sure on the timelines of when those are occurring.
And we certainly did at the last WHA assembly did see the US making fairly forceful statements in that direction. And there has been in the last couple of years some hope that such pressure might be more effective because of COVID. I mean when Taiwan first was able to attend, it was partly Ma Ying-jeou becoming president in Taiwan, a more acceptable leader to Beijing. But it was also in the aftermath of SARS. I think there was some sense that you might see this happening here but no avail.
There’s another somewhat related question in the chat. I should say, that is at least in US legislation there’s a reinforcement of the policy of supporting Taiwan’s participation. The Taipei Act is quite explicit on that, although how much it binds the president is another question for a separate podcast on separation of powers or something. We have another question from Julian Koo, a law professor who works in this field basically asks what should be the desired end goal for US policy makers with respect to Taiwan’s international status? Would Taiwan be satisfied with membership in international organizations that do not require statehood, which is something the US is of course willing to support. And if Taiwan wants more than that, if the Chinese suspicions are in fact correct, are we pursuing the right policy by doing what we’re doing?
Well Julian Koo, you are rather suspicious of Taiwan’s intentions here, but I fear that your suspicions are not well founded. At least in the presidency of Tsai Ing-wen. And we don’t know what a future president would do. But I would say that the United States probably would not support Taiwan pushing this any further than meaningful participation.
When Taiwan used to push for membership in the United Nations, the United States strongly encouraged Taiwan to move away from that position and ultimately it did. And I believe that if Taiwan makes progress toward meaningful participation, it then would put US support and the support of course from other countries at risk if it tried to push for more. So there would be great disincentives for it to do so. But fundamentally I don’t think that that’s what the current government in Taiwan is thinking about. And I doubt it’s something that would happen in the near future.
But as you say, some of it is a concern about the slightly over the horizon future, Tsai Ing-wen, like Ma Ying-jeou has been a president who has navigated these areas in ways that haven’t given the new the US the kind of heartburn that Ma’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian did. And of course Bonnie was alluding to Chen’s on the way out the door referendum in 2008 asking Taiwanese voters if Taiwan should seek membership in the United Nation under the name Taiwan. Hugely provocative. And it led to extremely unusual slap down by a senior US official, deputy assistant secretary of state Christiansen saying, “We respect your democracy. We respect your right to hold a referendum, but please don’t do it in a way that’s going to blow up US interest by dragging us into a cross straight conflict and or at least crisis.”
And as Bonnie points out that we haven’t seen that since then. But there is concern about after Tsai what? if the DPP wins and it’s a more, in the Taiwanese political vernacular deep green candidate and you do see things from the US side that raise concerns as well. Things like the Taiwan Policy Act, which if it were to pass, would sort of take things up to the next level in terms of declaring the nature of the relationship between the US and Taiwan.
You get at least some voices in Congress for recognition, reestablishing diplomatic relations, things like that. Unlikely to happen but clearly the source of some friction. So Jessica, you do some work I know on Taiwan domestic politics. Is it right for Beijing and for Taiwan’s friends in the US to worry about what things look like after the next presidential election in Taiwan in terms of where Taiwan will be? On the agenda we’ve been discussing today, which is to seek meaningful participation but not really push the envelope beyond that. To seek engagement with the UN and civil organizations but not return to the 2008 or even say 2003 or 2008 status quo ante.
I think it’s a little too soon to tell. We still have one local election before the 2024 general election. But I would say looking at the trends in identity politics that I highlighted earlier, it’s probably looking like a DPP president in 2024 barring any major incident. And it’s likely going to be Lai Ching-te, the current vice president. And a lot of commentators say this, Tsai was kind of the best DPP president that China and the US were going to get in terms of that she’s taken on a moderate position. I would say there’s a few things to look at going forward. A lot of discussions are on the 901 local elections in November, but I don’t think enough attention has been paid that on that exact same day, November 26th I believe, of this year, Taiwan’s holding its first referendum to amend the constitution.
So on November 26th there will be a vote on whether Taiwan should lower the voting age from, I want to say 23 to 18, no 20 to 18, sorry about that. And so what’s interesting is that 20 year olds… Sorry, 18 year olds can currently vote for referendums but they cannot vote for elections. So it’s too soon to tell what the outcome of that referendum’s going to look like. But if it does pass and the numbers right now aren’t great in support, supportive at passing just because for constitutional referendum the threshold is 50 percent of all eligible voters, which I believe is 9.8 million in Taiwan by 9.6 in 2020. Don’t quote me on those numbers.
But the thresholds are very high. But that said, we’ve been surprised many times by youth activists in Taiwan. We’ve seen it’s through a number of student movements. And if this does pass, it introduces, I think from what I recall, half a million 18 to 20 year olds to vote in the 2020 presidential election. And what that means for Taiwan domestic dynamics could be significant. Especially because young people in Taiwan tend to identify as more green. So would that shift kind of the median line of Taiwan domestic politics more towards the green side? What does that mean in terms of how the LY election, the legislative Yen elections will turn out? What does that mean? Will it empower perhaps deeper green forces in Taiwan? Those are all questions that we will need to ask as November comes around.
And which Lai Ching-te does shows up. the warrior for Taiwan independence or Tsai’s vice president, Tsai’s rival for the re-nomination or her relatively loyal second in command now. Then of course we have the local elections that before that, so plenty to watch in Taiwan politics. I’m sure we’ll be doing an event on that as it draws nearer.
We’re getting a little bit close to the end of our time here. So I do want to turn to another substantial portion of your report, which is essentially a set of policy recommendations. And so I guess I want to put the question of what is the US doing wrong and what is the US doing right if the goal is narrowly to push back against 2758 as interpreted by China a little bit more broadly to support Taiwan having meaningful international space and participation and still a bit more broadly than that to do what has been US policy since the Taiwan Relations Act and before even to avoid a coerced solution on Beijing’s terms in a way that’s not acceptable to people in Taiwan. So take that as broadly as you want, but certainly let’s address the narrow part. Which is what are we doing wrong? What are we doing right? What should we be doing that we’re not? I guess I’ll turn to Bonnie first on that.
Well I think that the United States should publicly emphasize the differences between our one China policy and Beijing’s one China principle. It should encourage other countries that have one China policy that different from the one China principle to do the same. And I think the US should call out China whenever it says that the United States recognized China’s position that Taiwan is part of China.
We don’t have to say it unless they distort what we say. But if they distort what we say then I think we should be quite explicit about what the normalization communique said. In addition, I think we should emphasize that China committed to peaceful resolution of its differences with Taiwan and that it has increasingly walked away from that commitment. And that encouraged China to return to its commitment to peaceful resolution. So I’d start there. I would add that I think that the US does need to work more closely with allies and partners to challenge this PRC effort to establish its one China principle in the United Nations based on resolution 2758.
If there is pushback, if China is proven wrong, there’s good possibility China will stop doing it. We haven’t tried. And I think one very welcome statement by deputy assistant Secretary of State Rick Waters last year was a good start. But the US hasn’t done much to follow up on that. So could likeminded countries write a letter to the UN secretary general expressing opposition to Beijing’s efforts to distort the meaning of the resolution and to block Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the United Nations.
One other thing that I would like to highlight, which we mentioned in our report, is that the International Organization of Standardization, the ISO, this is an independent NGO, it has a membership of 167 national standards bodies. It decided to use Taiwan, province of China. And lots of organizations use this to base their decisions on. And so this ISO usage has led to many organizations using Taiwan province of China.
So I would like to see the United States and its allies to press the ISO to reverse that decision. Something like that has been extremely, I think, harmful. And then finally what I just say is to reemphasize what I said earlier, that I think that overall the United States has to have a credible one China policy and doing so requires that it has a strong reassurance component. Even in its broader deterrence policy toward Beijing. So if the United States is in fact not adhering to a one China policy of some definition, not having official relations with Taiwan, it should be clear that there are some things we will not do. And I think we should make clear what those are and we should stick to them.
Okay, thanks Jessica. Do you want to add anything to that?
Yeah, I would add that there are certain things that the US could do more broadly at the UN level that would support Taiwan’s meaningful participation and push back against China’s influence at the UN, that would also support broader US interest within the international system. To just name a few, I guess in increased transparency. We know that there’s one MOU, are there more? There’s been suggestions that there are a number after talking to someone from the previous administration that was at the UN, that China has signed a number of secret MOUs across the board at the UN, not solely on Taiwan.
We should call for the text of those to be released. There’s also things we can do in terms of staffing at the UN and at the UN level from the top down and the bottom up in terms of putting forth candidates for senior leadership positions as specialized agencies to ensure that these leaders uphold the values that the UN stand for. Instead of holding to the objectives, the policy preferences of one member state. We’ve seen this I guess like at the WHO for one example, but there’s a number of leadership positions where the Chinese preferred candidate has taken the helm.
Well thanks. And as the terrific set of policy recommendations are set out in a bit more detail in the reports, I urge people to look at that. Again, the link is in the chat and as you suggest, there’s sort of, as particularly Bonnie’s reference to the ISO suggest, there are these other international organizations out there which in some ways are less tough nuts to crack than the UN. And there are opportunities for Taiwan and for the US to support Taiwan where we or membership is potentially on the table. And we have seen some action in that space. We’re coming up against our time here, but since this is 2022, I have to say Ukraine.
Where does that fit into all of this? In fact, one of the first questions to come in the chat points out that the UN has changed a bit. After all, when the UN was founded, the Soviet Union was one of the P5 and if I remember correctly, Ukraine was one of three Soviet seats in addition to the real Soviet seat, I think it Belorussia in the initial general assembly.
And of course the ROC was the representative, the Republic of China, the government now in Taiwan was the representative of China. Both of those things have changed. But Ukraine is back in the news of course for all the obvious reasons. What does it mean for this issue in the sense that we’re talking a course about China’s nightmare being that Taiwan is accepted to some degree as a sovereign state in the international system and China’s way of handling this has always been to sing loudly about the sacrosanct nature of sovereignty and territorial integrity with Taiwan being inside the Chinese fence in China’s view. But therefore demanding that other folks including the US not do things like what China accuses the US of doing now of supporting the possible Taiwan independence or at least Taiwan autonomy. Well China said some interesting things about Ukraine and has gotten a little close to Russia on that.
So how does this issue of China’s perhaps recently slightly diminished but still notable alignment with Russia over the Ukraine issue. Does that have any resonance for the Taiwan issue or how to deal with the Taiwan issue in terms of international standing and space? We got about four minutes to cover that topic. So let me start with Jessica and then go to Bonnie on it.
So I would say we’ve seen a lot of support, at least on the Ukraine, Taiwan front. There’s been a lot more vocal support between the two sides, given I guess a common threat from China and Russia. I would say on the UN side, I’m less familiar with how I guess Russian influence at the UN. But I feel like Chinese influence at the UN partially is to prepare for a situation like this where they can say that the international norm is that Taiwan is a part of China so that they can push back against countries opposing any action they take against Taiwan.
So what we have seen interestingly is the Chinese position being that the Taiwan and Ukraine situations are completely different. There’s no analogy because Ukraine at least has been recognized as state Taiwan isn’t. While Taiwanese have, as Jessica points out, been pretty positive about Ukraine and have drawn the analogies. Particularly the importance of the international community reacting against coercive measures to change the status quo of democratic governance in an autonomously run place. Bonnie, you get the last word on this weighty topic.
Well thank you Jacques. There are some useful analogies one can make between Taiwan and Ukraine, but at the end of the day, Taiwan is not Ukraine. And the way the questioner phrase this question, the Soviet Union really did cease to exist, but we still have 14 that recognize the Republic of China and have diplomatic relations with the Republic of China. It’s at least 13 states and the Vatican.
And so I don’t see that in this case it’s really helpful in the overall context of the UN, beyond the frame of just the United Nations. Yes, there are some useful parallels of Taiwan potentially being invaded by China as Russia has invaded Ukraine and it’s been a wake up call for people in Taiwan. And it has just as many in the international community have rallied around Ukraine. Taiwan is hoping to capture some of that support and use that support to prevent China from attacking and get countries to say that they would make China pay a price perhaps in terms of international sanctions as have been imposed on Russia. So there are some useful lessons that can be drawn, but I’m not sure it really helps us in the context of Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations.
Well thanks and thank you for tying that all up with a nice return to our core topic here after I’ve done my best to lead us astray. I want to thank Bonnie Glaser, the director of the Asia program with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Jessica Drum nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s global China hub. It’s been a terrifically rich discussion. Thank you both for joining us today. Thank you all of you who are in our audience and raising some really terrific questions.
We could go on a lot longer, but we promised to go only an hour. So that’s what we’re going to do. I hope you’ll continue to tune in for future Asia program events. We are going to start doing some live stuff soon and transition away from doing all Zoom all the time. Again once again, thank you for joining us. Stay tuned for further programming and please do look at the report. You can find the link in the chat here. Again, the title of the report is The Distortion of UN resolution 2758 Limits on Taiwan’s Access to the United Nations. Thank you again, Bonnie and Jessica. See you all soon.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.