On the matter of Taiwan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has gone too far, even for the US State Department.
The matter began innocuously enough. In March, the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru deposited with the UN secretary-general Taiwan's ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Ban returned the letter on March 28 to the Nauru representative, explaining he could not accept the document. He referred to UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 (XXVI) of Oct. 25, 1971.
"In that resolution," he explained, "the General Assembly decided `to recognize the representatives of the People's Republic of China are the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations.
"In accordance with that resolution, the United Nations considers Taiwan for all purposes to be an integral part of the People's Republic of China," he said.
"For all purposes?" Could the UN secretary-general unilaterally and without consultation make a major pronouncement in international law on the status of 23 million people?
This caused such diplomatic concern in Washington and Taipei that both sides tried to keep it secret.
The US State Department, in its own methodical way, convened internal meetings and disseminated several confidential memorandums on how it might neutralize the secretary-general's stance without angering China.
This, of course, was impossible. Indeed, many officials in the department believe that Taiwan had brought all this on itself.
Others, however, argued (successfully) that unless Ban's pronouncement were reversed, Taiwan may find itself bound by a number of international protocols under China's signature.
The Department of Agriculture was particularly concerned that China, which bans US beef, would ensure via the World Organization for Animal Health (known by the French acronym "OIE") that Taiwan cease imports of the meat.
So, after considerable internal consultation, a delegation of US diplomats quietly approached one of their only friends in the UN Secretariat, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe.
Pascoe, a retired US ambassador, once served as the director of the American Institute in Taiwan. Pascoe was sympathetic, but demurred that the issue was a "legal" one, not a political one. He directed the Americans to UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Larry Johnson.
In late July, the Americans confronted Johnson on Ban's letter. The assertion that Taiwan was "for all purposes an integral part of the PRC [People's Republic of China]" was very disturbing, the US diplomats said, because "while this assertion is consistent with the Chinese position, it is not universally held by UN member states, including the United States."
Significantly, China's position is held neither by Japan, nor the UK, Canada, Australia nor New Zealand, all of which signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 under which "Japan renounce[d] all right, title, and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores [Penghu]," but the treaty did not add to whom "right, title and claim" to Formosa might ultimately devolve.
At the time, Britain set down for the record that, while the treaty provided for Japan to renounce sovereignty over Taiwan, "the treaty itself does not determine the future of these islands." As such, Britain was happy to sign it, as did Australia and New Zealand.