Washington, DC – One of the persistent myths propagated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, adopted on October 25, 1971, automatically made Taiwan a part of the PRC. This myth has been repeated most recently in the White Paper on Taiwan (Xinhua, August 10, 2022, The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era’) released by the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council and the State Council Information Office in the aftermath of the visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It is important to understand the original Resolution and its intent to appreciate the distortion and disinformation engaged in by the PRC to convince the world of its ‘One China’ policy.
The latest White Paper cites the original Resolution adopted in 1971, which undertook “to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all organizations related to it.” China has thus taken the position that this Resolution “settled once and for all the political, legal and procedural issues of China’s representation in the UN, and it covered the whole country, including Taiwan.
China’s strategy, as will be seen, is two-fold. First, it distorts UN Resolution 2758 to prevent Taiwan from being recognized at the UN or its related bodies as an independent nation and, therefore, states, “Taiwan does not have any ground, or right to join the UN, or any other international organization whose membership is confined to sovereign states.” Second, its universalization of the ‘One China’ principle in the context of Resolution 2758 has coincided with its increasing penetration of the UN system, permitting the PRC to get other organizations to accept its stand on Taiwan.
Just how conscious a strategy this distortion is made clear in a March 2022 Report by Jessica Drun and Bonnie Glaser written for the German Marshall Fund (The Distortion of UN 2758 to Limit Taiwan’s Access to the United Nations, German Marshall Fund, March 2022 accessed on October 9, 2022). The Report contends that since the early 2000s, the PRC has undertaken a campaign to reinterpret UN Resolution 2758 as based on its ‘One China’ principle and spread the fallacy that, through the Resolution, UN member states came to a determination that Taiwan is a part of PRC. A perusal of the official UN Records and Minutes of Meetings shows that in 1971, countries solely intended to grant the seat occupied by the Republic of China in the General Assembly and the Security Council to the PRC.
Significantly, PRC has gained the ability to influence the UN system in a manner as to be able to exclude Taiwan from organizations under the UN. This penetration of the UN system has been achieved through various means, including specialized funding schemes, signing of MoUs, and embedding PRC nationals across all levels of UN staff and outside it. While China has repeatedly claimed that there is international consensus to its claims on Taiwan, a closer look at UN Resolution 2758 shows that its language in no way gives effect to the Chinese position.
Crucially, the UN Resolution does not include the words “Republic of China” or “Taiwan.” It merely alludes to the former vacating its UN seat. (Madoka Fukuda, ‘China is Using a UN Resolution to Further its Claim over Taiwan’, The Diplomat, August 26, 2022). In the summer of 1971, several resolutions were proposed relating to addressing the “China” seat in the UNGA, the permanent “China” seat in the Security Council, and so on. Seven draft resolutions and an amendment by Saudi Arabia were raised on the floor of the UNGA, with three pressed to vote, including 2758 (sponsored by Albania and 22 other countries).
When the UNGA adopted 2758, it was an outcome that PRC did not look forward to. Ahead of the UNGA meeting in October 1971, PRC circulated letters to members conveying its position that Taiwan was a part of China and territory returned to it after the Second World War. The letter informed that China would have nothing to do with the [UN] if it adopted a position of Two Chinas”, “One China,” One Taiwan,” or “the status of Taiwan remaining to be determined.”
The German Marshall Fund report shows that PRC efforts to impose their view on the global community that there is equivalency between the “One China” Principle and UN Resolution 2758 has been pursued with vigor since the 1990s, driven by a combination of PRC’s increasing influence in the UN and democratization of Taiwan. Since then, the focus of PRC disinformation has been to get the international community to shift their view of UN Resolution 2758 and One China Principle being distinct to a posture where both are seen as equal, i.e., having the same meaning. The result is that the PRC is willing to tolerate a KMT government in power in Taiwan while staunchly blocking Taiwan when it is governed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Since the inauguration of President Tsai Ing-Wen from the DPP in May 2016, Taiwan has yet again been prevented from participating in UN and UN-affiliated organizations.
China’s strategy to equate UN Resolution 2758 with its One China Principle has been backed by secret agreements with relevant UN bodies to restrict Taiwan’s access to UN buildings and by embedding Chinese nationals in various UN organizations. Several NGOs and civil society organizations have reported that China has restricted access to UN buildings if Taiwan is not recognized as a part of China on its websites and public dissemination materials. The other instance given by the GMF Report is the case of Wikimapia Foundation’s application for membership as an Observer of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Both in 2020 and 2021, the Foundation’s WIPO application was blocked by PRC because Wikimapia hosts information on Taiwan that is contrary to China’s official “One China” Principle. The 2014 Report of the International Telecommunications Union on Disaster Relief provides another instance of China managing to change the nomenclature of “Taiwan” to “Taiwan, Province of China.”
One of the lessons of PRC disinformation on UN Resolution 2758 is the disproportionate influence it has gained in the UN system. According to Gateway House, Mumbai (‘China expanded influence in UN Bodies over the past decade: Study,’ The Hindustan Times, May 27, 2021), the PRC headed four of the 15 principal agencies of the UN and as of 2019, the organization counted over 1,300 PRC nationals among its staff. Chinese citizens also hold senior positions across UN funds and programs, its principal organs, and other UN-affiliated international organizations. The study cites UN figures to show that China’s expanding influence has been enabled by the country’s increased monetary contributions to the world body. Its mandatory contributions as a UN member rose by 1,096 percent between 2010 and 2019, while voluntary donations increased by 346 percent from $51 billion to $172 billion in 2019. China’s efforts to constrain Taiwan in the UN system sets a dangerous precedent and demonstrate a prioritization of one Member State’s national interests over that of the international community.