The main challenge Taiwan faces when applying for UN membership, or even to participate in any UN function, is that it would allegedly contravene UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 of Oct. 25, 1971. This is false, but it bears examination, especially as nations seek peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
First, look at what Resolution 2758 says and does not say as regards Taiwan. Then place that in the context of the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco that ended World War II and the earlier Treaty of Shimonoseki, by which the Manchu Qing empire gave Taiwan to Japan in 1895. With various nations taking sides for personal reasons, Taiwan’s relationship with the UN reads much like episodes from the soap opera As the World Turns. For Taiwan it has serious consequences.
Resolution 2758 is brief. In that brevity, it officially recognizes that the “representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China [PRC] are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations.” This confirms that the PRC won the Chinese Civil War.
The resolution then goes on to expel “forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek [蔣介石] from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.”
Taiwan is never mentioned in the resolution. Therefore, crucial to understanding the above expulsion is the determination of who the representatives of former president Chiang are, what constitutes China and how this relates to Taiwan.
The representatives of Chiang are easily identified. They are the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) delegates who exited the UN before they were “officially expelled.” They were not the Taiwanese who at that time suffered under martial law, the White Terror and the one-party state domination of the KMT in exile.
As for what constitutes China, Taiwan’s separate status and role have certainly changed over the centuries, but at the end of World War II when the UN was formed, Taiwan was not part of “China.”
In 1683, after the Manchus conquered the Ming Dynasty’s China, Tibet, Mongolia and Xinjiang, they also pursued and repatriated Ming loyalists who had fled to Taiwan, which was then under Dutch control. To prevent any Ming loyalists from returning, the Manchus occupied the western half of Taiwan. As the Qing continued to rule, their empire was made up of many regions that were not part of Ming China.
By 1885, seeing Taiwan’s value, the Manchus declared Taiwan a province of their empire, even though they did not control the island’s eastern half. The Manchus then fought Japan and lost. This resulted in Japan taking full sovereignty of Taiwan in 1895, following the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
Fast-forward to the end of World War II in 1945 and the subsequent 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, under which Japan surrendered sovereignty over Taiwan, but did not name a recipient. The US as the chief victor in the war also did not name a recipient, although it delegated Chiang and his representatives to accept Japan’s surrender on its behalf.
Thus, today, 75 years later, the US continues to claim that it is “undecided” on Taiwan’s status. In 2019, then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo confirmed this by saying that Taiwan does not belong to China.
In the previous half century (1895-1945) when Taiwan was a Japanese colony, the 1911 Xinhai Revolution split the Manchu Empire; and “Manchu China” went through its warlord period and civil war between the KMT, formed in 1911, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), formed in 1921. That civil war temporarily ceased in 1937 to fight Japan’s expansion into China, but resumed in 1945. By 1949, the CCP had won and the KMT government fled in exile to Taiwan.
Taiwanese have never claimed to be representatives of Chiang, but some members of the KMT in exile in Taiwan do make that claim. They are easily distinguished by their professing a belief in the bogus “1992 consensus,” a term invented by former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) in 2000.
An irony exists here, for although the PRC claims to be the only representative of China, it still accepts the bogus “1992 consensus,” because that lie provides the PRC with a fictitious link to claim Taiwan.
There is more. The UN, which was founded in 1945, has never attempted to make a definitive definition as to “what is and what is not China.” The KMT representatives of Chiang were founding members, although their Constitution went into effect in 1947 when they were still in a civil war on the continent. In 1949, they were driven from China and took refuge on Taiwan. The PRC formulated its constitution in 1954.
This is part of the past that the majority of Taiwanese seek to rid themselves of as they also seek to remove the statues of Chiang.
In 1971, Chiang was still alive and his KMT still controlled Taiwan through martial law and the White Terror. In 1979, the US would finally recognize that the KMT lost the Chinese Civil War and move its embassy to Beijing.
Taiwan does not want to enter the UN as a representative of China; Taiwan wishes only to represent Taiwan, Penghu and a few other islands that were part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. At that time, the KMT and CCP did not exist and Ming China was part of a vaster Manchu Empire.
After 1979, the US has never used the name the Republic of China (ROC) when addressing Taiwan; it uses the more correct name of Taiwan.
For this reason, it is a shame that the KMT chairman-elect Eric Chu (朱立倫) once again dredged up the KMT belief in the bogus “1992 consensus.” This contributes to the popular saying in Taiwan that “for Taiwan to advance, the KMT must fall.”
Certainly, if Taiwan is to enter the UN, any relics of the KMT’s claims to represent China must be purged, in addition to the statues of Chiang.
The soap opera is not done. In 2007, then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon rejected a Taiwan membership application while confusing the difference between what is called the “one China policy” and the “one China principle” maintained and promoted by the PRC. I have written extensively on that difference in the past.
The US, while remaining in its “undecided” position, has often not helped Taiwan. It too often avoids admitting to the de facto independence of Taiwan. For reasons that promote other US causes, former US president George Bush expressed a mistrust and dislike of duly elected former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Similarly, when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) visited Washington in 2015, it was leaked that there was “mistrust in her” as she ran for president.
The US expresses its feelings as regards Taiwan, not on the reality of Taiwan’s hard-won democracy, but on how that democracy serves or does not serve US purposes.
As the PRC increases its hegemony, the US is finally changing its tune. Taiwan is no longer seen as a problem in its relations with China. Instead, along with its allies, the US sees an independent and democratic Taiwan as an opportunity to advance its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Surprisingly, Taiwan can now be a “beacon for peoples around the world who aspire for a more just, safe, prosperous and democratic world.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed how the hegemonic PRC is not a team player in the UN or the world. Thus the soap opera continues.
Democratic Taiwan has its own work cut out for it as it faces changing its ROC name and Constitution to avoid any accusation of being a “representative of Chiang Kai-shek.”
Regarding UN membership, there is no reason why newly democratic Taiwan should be kept out of its rightful place in that assembly. If a small nation such as East Timor with its troubled past can fit in, certainly Taiwan can as well.
Taiwan has every right to self-representation in the UN. In this, Taiwanese must repeat, over and over again: “For Taiwan to rise, the KMT must fall.”
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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