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Taiwan and the United Nations - Withdrawal in 1971 was an historic turning point

Whether one regards it as a pull out or an expulsion, the loss of Taiwan's UN seat in 1971 was the result of a decades-long loss of international support for the ROC regime

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger tours the Forbidden City in Beijing with the US delegation during Kissinger's secret visit to Beijing in July 1971.

PHOTO: FROM THE BOOK 'THE WHITE HOUSE YEARS', BY HENRY KISSINGER

The day after the Republic of China lost its UN seat, Frederick Chien (錢復), the foreign ministry's director-general of the Department of North American Affairs, received a phone call from an American boy at Taipei's UN mission located on Second Avenue in New York City.

"He said, `I heard my father say that you lost your seat at the UN. You must be very sad. If you have no place to go, we have rooms at our home. Please come and join us,'" recalled Chien, now president of the Control Yuan, yesterday morning in his office.

Taiwan's loss of the China seat at the UN 30 years ago was the culmination of a slow erosion in support for the ROC which climaxed in what many scholars call "the collective denial of the ROC's statehood," in 1971. Its subsequent isolation from the international system immediately followed suit.

Conventional wisdom has attributed the loss of the UN seat to the then-KMT government's adamant insistence on declaring itself the sole legitimate government of China, albeit with only de facto control of Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war on the mainland to the communists in 1949. Some have attributed the diplomatic fiasco to the government's refusal, at least in public, to accept the US-led concept of dual representation under a "two Chinas" option in the UN.

Miscalculation

But recently de-classified US files and insider accounts tell a different story, bringing to light the complex diplomacy that eventually led to Taiwan's departure.

"America's de-classified diplomatic files reveal that Taipei then opposed the idea of dual representation for domestic reasons, but told its allies not to take its own position seriously; Taipei hoped they would support the dual representation proposal even if it involved giving away its seat at the UN Security Council to the Chinese Communists," wrote James Wang (王景弘), author of the book entitled In Search of History: Taiwan As Seen in Washington Classified Files (採訪歷史:從華府檔案看台灣).

Beginning in the 1950s, the question of China's representation had surfaced annually on the UN's agenda, with the ROC on Taiwan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) fighting for the seat as the sole legitimate government of all China.

Colored by the Cold War's East-West confrontation, the fight before the final battle in 1971 can be split into two stages.

From 1950 to 1960, Beijing's effort, assisted by the Soviet bloc, was checked in the UN by the means of a moratorium initiated by the US. From 1961 to 1970, Taipei's supporters adopted another device, which declared the matter an "Important Question" requiring a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly before any change could be made regarding membership.

In 1966, Italy proposed the setting up of a committee under the UN to study measures to solve the question of China's representation, but both Taipei and Beijing refused the offer, triggering their allies' opposition to the proposal.

By the spring of 1971, both Taipei and Washington felt "pessimistic" about continuing the "Important Question" approach to safeguarding Taipei's seat, given Beijing's rising influence, wrote Wang, United Daily News' senior correspondent in Washington.

Chien said that the US then suggested to Taipei a simple dual representation model that did not involve Taipei's seat on the UN Security Council as a tactic to guarantee Taipei's representation. The plan was to exclude the question of who would get the Security Council seat from the proposal.

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