Ironically, October 25, 2021, was a milestone in Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in the international community. “Ironic” because Taiwan was booted out of the United Nations exactly 50 years before.
Beijing cynically celebrated the same anniversary of the “People’s Republic’s” admission to the United Nations and “the expulsion forthwith of the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek” (蔣介石) with a series of diplomatic soirees and press releases. UN Resolution 2758 of October 25, 1971, was, says China’s foreign ministry, the definitive international recognition of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. Even China’s top political commentator — Mr. “Zhong Sheng,” (or “鐘聲”, a People’s Daily pseudonym for Politburo-level commentary on foreign affairs) marked the event on October 29 with a blistering screed against the United States for deploying US military training teams to Taiwan and for supporting Taiwan’s “meaningful” participation in international organizations.
Most of comrade “Zhong Sheng’s” allegations about US policies and commitments to Beijing regarding Taiwan were outright falsehoods. If official Chinese foreign policy cadres were honest, they would accept that the United States pretends to have a “one China policy” as long as China pretends to have a “fundamental policy to strive for a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question.”
But Comrade Zhong got one thing right. He reminded his 90 million readers (People’s Daily is required reading for all 90 million Communist Party cadres) that:
“… Fifty years ago, the attempt of the US to create ‘one China, one Taiwan’ or ‘two Chinas’ at the UN failed.”
Today, says the People’s Daily, America “is peddling the so-called ‘Taiwan’s participation in the UN system’ again, trying to turn back the wheels of history…”
Back in 1971, it was indeed the policy of the United States to preserve Taiwan’s representation in the United Nations and to urge Chiang Kai-shek to accept a seat rather than abandon the UN forever. In fact, the United States voted against China’s admission under Resolution 2758 explicitly because the resolution also expelled Taiwan. But President Chiang refused to accept a seat in any organization that would have communist China as a member, and so his representatives stormed out of the General Assembly never to return. There was little the United States could do to change his mind.
“Zhong Sheng” gets most everything else wrong. He asserts that “the US government has repeatedly affirmed the position that it ‘doesn’t believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement.’”
The US doesn’t believe that at all. It supports Taiwan’s membership in any organization that will have it, the WTO, Asian Development Bank, APEC. The US encourages countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan to keep them, and urges those that have recently severed relations to re-establish them.
And now, the US insists on Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in international organizations.
But what, pray tell, is “meaningful participation”? One journalist interrogated the State Department spokesman about why the Department publicized a new “US-Taiwan Working Group Meeting on International Organizations” precisely on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Resolution 2758? The spokesman cheerfully responded: “So yesterday, as I believe, was the 50th anniversary of the UN resolution; but the statement made a broader point, and the statement made a point that we support Taiwan’s ability to participate meaningfully at the UN.”
The journalist pressed: “Sorry, but ‘meaningful’ is getting a lot of use here. Does that mean — and I realize that you want to go back to strategic ambiguity after the President’s comments last week — but when you say ‘meaningful,’ does that mean independent of Beijing?”
The spokesman smiled that wry smile that says “it means what it means.” After much journalistic pressing met with “spokesmanic” smiles, it became clear the spokesman was signaling that “independent of Beijing” is exactly where US policy is.
This sort of talk alarms Comrade “Zhong Sheng” and the Politburo. They are acutely aware that China’s intensively “non-peaceful” provocations against Taiwan in recent months and years have prompted the Biden Administration to embrace the strong pro-Taiwan policies of the previous Trump Administration.Then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo instructed his ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, to publicize meetings with Taiwan’s top diplomat in New York, and to underscore America’s commitment to Taiwan’s participation in the world community. “One of the last acts of the Trump State Department was to order ambassador Craft to Taipei on an official mission to discuss strategies to expand Taiwan’s international space.” The mission failed to take place for entirely non-diplomatic reasons, but had the tacit approval of president-elect Biden’s incoming foreign policy team.
Comrade “Zhong Sheng” knows full well that the United States does not now, nor has it ever, recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. This was true after the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951; this was true after the Resolution 2758 vote in 1971; this was true after President Reagan’s “Six Assurances” of 1982. It was true in June 2007 when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instructed the US mission to the United Nations to protest the use of “Resolution 2758” to validate a UN statement that “Taiwan is for all purposes an integral part of the PRC.”
Then, the US mission objected: “While this assertion is consistent with the Chinese position, it is not universally held by UN member states, including the United States.” Secretary Rice directed that “If the UN Secretariat insists on describing Taiwan as a part of the PRC, or on using nomenclature for Taiwan that implies such status, the United States will be obliged to disassociate itself on a national basis from such position.”
The Biden Administration’s protective stance toward Taiwan annoys “Zhong Sheng,” but promoting Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in the international community “separate from Beijing” enrages him.
Comrade Zhong threatens the United States that China’s “unification” is “the trend of history” and, cribbing Chairman Xi Jinping’s (習近平) favorite quote from Dr. Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), he intones: “the tides of world events are vast and mighty; those who go with them shall prosper, and those who go against will perish.” All well and good. Except that Dr. Sun’s words were written in August 1916 as he witnessed the tides at Qiantang (錢塘). Whether Dr. Sun believed Chinese unification as among the “tides of world events” is debatable. He certainly was inspired by the indomitability of the human soul and the patriotism of Wu Zixu (伍子胥 c. 484 BC) long before any unified China existed. Like Sun, Wu Zixu fled persecution to a rival kingdom where he was distrusted. Alas, Wu Zixu was ultimately executed — his remains tossed into the tidal bore at Qiantang. At Qiantang, “tides” of world events flowed heavily on Sun Yat-sen’s mind. But not Taiwan.
In 2021, the “tides” of world events are swelling in Taiwan’s direction. Not only is the US lending weight to Taiwan’s international aspirations, Europe’s parliaments, Australia and the new government in Japan are also supportive. Their navies now make a practice of transiting the Taiwan Strait, not merely in “freedom of navigation operations,” but refuting China’s claim that the Strait is sovereign waters.
Should China engage in even more aggressive pushback, “Zhong Sheng” may find the United States explicitly “disassociating itself on a national basis” from China’s assertion of sovereignty over Taiwan. And not only the US, but like-minded democracies as well.
John J. Tkacik, Jr. is a retired US foreign service officer who has served in Taipei and Beijing and is now director of the Future Asia Project at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
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