Recently, UN Resolution 2758 — passed in 1971 — has reared its ugly head again; this time China’s leaders, former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and others have drawn a connection between the resolution and Taiwan. This article aims to set out the sequence of events that led to the passing of Resolution 2758 and demonstrate why it is totally unconnected to Taiwan.
After the end of World War II, the defeated Republic of China (ROC) government retreated to Taiwan. This gave rise to a problem: should the UN continue to recognize the exiled ROC government — driven from China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and now occupying Taiwan — as China’s representative to the UN, or should the newly established CCP government in Beijing be given the ROC’s seat on the UN Security Council? From then on, the UN was engaged in a dispute over which government was the rightful representative of China to the UN.
In 1951, Thailand proposed a resolution to defer the UN General Assembly’s hearing on the issue of the representation of China to the UN, which delayed a decision on the matter that year.
From 1952 to 1960, the US, in line with its opposition of the CCP’s entry to the UN, proposed a series of resolutions to defer a decision on the issue.
From 1961 to 1971, the method for handling China’s representation at the UN was to tie down the issue by defining it as an “important question.” What does this mean?
In 1961, an “important question resolution,” proposed by the US, was passed by the UN General Assembly. The resolution, in accordance with Article 18 of the UN Charter, stated that if a majority of member nations attending an assembly meeting determined the issue of China’s representation at the UN to be an “important question,” then any resolution to remove Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) as the representative of China would require two-thirds of the member nations attending a UN General Assembly meeting to vote in favor of the resolution. This was quite a high threshold.
If a resolution was proposed to boot Chiang’s government from the UN, it would only require half of the member nations present to vote for it. However, if the assembly decided the issue was an “important question,” then two-thirds of the member nations would need to vote in favor of the resolution for it to come into effect.
As to whether the issue could be considered to be an “important question” would first be put to a vote by means of a resolution.
A series of resolutions were passed to this effect which essentially said: Yes, the issue of China’s representation at the UN is an “important question,” therefore any resolution would require a two-thirds majority, and it was due to this high threshold that the CCP was continually excluded from the UN.
Although these “important question” resolutions provided a useful cover for the ROC, in 1971, an “important question” resolution was tabled that was lost by the pro-ROC side. Fifty-five members voted in favor of the resolution, while 59 opposed and 15 abstained. The majority of member states thought that China’s representation at the UN was not an “important question,” so a two-thirds majority was not needed to eject the ROC.
Albania then proposed Resolution 2758 to do just that: Seventy-six nations voted in favor of it, while 35 opposed and 17 abstained. Chiang’s ROC delegation, which had occupied China’s seat at the UN for 22 years, was turfed out and replaced by the CCP.
It cannot be stressed enough that during the struggle over who should represent China at the UN, it was certainly not the case that a new member state was admitted to the UN and given a new seat on the UN General Assembly. Nor was it the case that an existing member state was forced out, leaving an empty seat. Prior to 1971, both groups that claimed to represent China — the ROC government-in-exile and the CCP — would turn up at the UN General Assembly at the same time, each claiming that they were the rightful representatives of China. The UN General Assembly then passed a resolution to determine which group should represent China.
The assembly could decide to ask the PRC delegation to leave, just as it had done at every instance prior to 1971. It could also decide to let both delegations take the seat, which was proposed by some states at the time. However, the UN General Assembly voted to ask the ROC delegation to leave and let the PRC delegation take the seat.
Resolution 2758 was purely a dispute about China’s representation at the UN and had nothing to do with Taiwan. No new nation entered the UN, creating a new seat within the assembly; neither was a member driven out, removing a seat from the assembly.
Resolution 2758 only dealt with the question of which group should represent China at the UN; it was totally unrelated to Taiwan.
Lloyd Fan is deputy director of Academic Affairs at Kun Shan University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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