China Pushes Back on Taiwan's Campaign for United Nations Return

China is pushing back against Taiwan's decades-long campaign to return to the United Nations, a movement that is starting to gain traction in friendly capitals as Beijing's political isolation of the island is thrust further into the spotlight.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters on Tuesday that Taiwan "is not qualified to join the UN" as a province of China. He expressed China's expectation for the majority of UN member states to support its position.

Taiwan's struggle for meaningful participation at the UN and in UN-led international bodies like the World Health Organization is one that has been taken up by both its ruling and opposition parties. It centers on UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 2758, passed in October 1971, which saw the People's Republic of China (PRC) replace the Republic of China—Taiwan's formal name—as the representative of China.

Taipei's argument—led most notably by its foreign minister, Joseph Wu—is that UNGA Resolution 2758 made no mention of Taiwan, let alone attempt to determine its political status. Efforts to rejoin the UN under the name "Taiwan" have so far been rejected, owing to apparent deference to Beijing's claim to Taiwan, despite China's having never governed the democratic island in the 72 years since the PRC's founding.

China Opposes Taiwan Campaign For UN Return
A protester holds a flag during a demonstration outside of the United Nations offices on the opening day of the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization's annual meeting, on May 22, 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland. Despite impassioned pleas from several countries, the WHO’s annual assembly refused on May 22 to even discuss admitting Taiwan to the meeting, in a move hailed by China. Taiwan has been excluded from the WHA every year since. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The United States doesn't take a position on Taiwan's sovereignty and believes its status to be undetermined. In April, a bipartisan bill announced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) advocated for Taiwan's "meaningful participation in the United Nations" and other UN-centered bodies.

In a series of recent op-eds published in The Japan Times and The Diplomat, among others, Taiwan's foreign minister argued that UNGA Resolution 2758 shouldn't be misrepresented to exclude Taiwan from the global governing body.

Beyond addressing the issue of China's seat at the UN, "there is no mention of Chinese claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, nor does it authorize the PRC to represent Taiwan in the UN system," Wu said. "The fact is, the PRC has never governed Taiwan. This is the reality and status quo across the two sides of the Taiwan Strait."

The official, who Beijing has singled out for challenging its official position, noted: "The Taiwanese people can only be represented on the international stage by their popularly elected government. By falsely equating the language of the resolution with Beijing's 'one China principle,' the PRC is arbitrarily imposing its political views on the UN."

Front and center of Taiwan's argument include matters such as its future contributions to global health, particularly given its record in tackling COVID-19. But for Taipei, a return to the UN would mean a significant expansion of its international space, allowing it to participate in other UN agencies and international groups that work off the UN system.

For the people of Taiwan, according to Wu, it would also set right "discriminatory treatment" such as Taiwanese passport holders being barred from UN premises—even as tourists—and Taiwanese journalists being denied accreditation for UN events.

For Beijing, however, a UN that includes Taiwan would mark an unacceptable elevation of the island's status in the international community, one which would only serve to further solidify Taiwan's determination to chart its own course, separate from a PRC-defined Chinese identity.

This dangerous prospect appeared to be reflected in Zhao's remarks during Tuesday's Chinese Foreign Ministry briefing, in which he chose not to name Wu—referring only to "a certain individual in Taiwan"—and described his appeal as "a flagrant challenge and serious provocation."

Zhao predicted Taiwan's quest to rejoin the UN would receive no support.