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China’s Xi looks to allies at UN as global support grows for Taiwan

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. (State Department/Released)
October 29, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping has called for reform at the United Nations amid signs that Washington is increasingly keen to stand up for democratic Taiwan, which lost its place in the U.N. on Oct. 25, 1971, to be replaced by the People’s Republic of China.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on U.N. member states on Tuesday to support Taiwan’s “robust” participation in the system, saying that its exclusion “undermines the important work of the U.N. and its related bodies, all of which stand to benefit greatly from its contributions.”

“The fact that Taiwan participated robustly in certain U.N. specialized agencies for the vast majority of the past 50 years is evidence of the value the international community places in Taiwan’s contributions. Recently, however, Taiwan has not been permitted to contribute to U.N. efforts,” Blinken said.

“That is why we encourage all U.N. member states to join us in supporting Taiwan’s robust, meaningful participation throughout the U.N. system and in the international community,” he said.

Taiwan has also been denied a presence in the World Health Assembly despite its exemplary handling of the coronavirus pandemic and contribution to global efforts, Blinken said.

Blinken’s comments came a day after Xi gave a speech in Beijing calling for changes to the way international rules are decided in the U.N. system, in a sideswipe at U.S. influence in the U.N. system.

“International rules should only be formulated by the 193 U.N. member states, and not by individual countries or groups of countries,” Xi said in a speech marking the accession of the People’s Republic of China to the U.N. on the day that Taiwan left.

“There should be no exceptions,” Xi said.

Feng Chongyi of the University of Technology Sydney said China now has a formidable grouping of its own at the U.N., gained through years of diplomatic efforts and financial assistance across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

“China has done enough work, and these countries will vote for China at the U.N. in return for a sum of money invested, or some benefits to their leaders,” Feng said.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council was originally intended to deal with authoritarian countries that undermined their citizens’ human rights, but China is now accusing democratic countries of human rights abuses, while massive and systemic human rights abuses in authoritarian countries go unsanctioned,” he said.

“Xi Jinping said those things in the knowledge that there is a long-running relationship with those [authoritarian] countries, so he has a certain amount of confidence,” Feng said.

Li Kexian, an associate professor at the Institute of International Strategic Studies at Tokyo International University, said China is no longer worried about being able to take on the U.S. at the U.N., but about alliances being forged by the U.S. outside of the U.N. system.

“China’s biggest worry now is that the U.S. will go back to unilateralism, or engage in small circle alliances,” Li said. “When the U.S. strengthened its Indo-Pacific strategy, those alliances were all forged outside of the U.N. system.”

“That’s why Xi Jinping wants to focus on the U.N. and multilateralism.”

Rising to the top

China has recently seen its nationals rise to the top job in four U.N. agencies: Qu Dongyu at the Food and Agriculture Association (FAO); Fang Liu at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); Zhao Houlin at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU); and Li Yong at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Chinese diplomat Duan Jielong also sits as one of 21 judges at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the U.N.-affiliated agency that adjudicates in maritime disputes under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 2020, Beijing also made a failed bid to back a candidate in elections for the head of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has been sanctioned by the CCP for speaking out on its rights violations, warned in a 2020 report that China under Xi is “to rewrite norms and manipulate existing procedures not only to minimize scrutiny of the Chinese government’s conduct, but also to achieve the same for all governments.”

“Chinese authorities now extend domestic censorship to communities around the world, ranging from academia to diaspora communities to global businesses,” the report said.

While Taiwan, using the Republic of China name, was expelled and replaced by Beijing, nothing in the resolution that expelled it said it couldn’t participate, yet its participation has mostly been blocked by Beijing.

The Republic of China regime led by then dictator Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists, and the island has operated as a self-governing state bearing the Republic of China name ever since.

It has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China, yet Beijing has repeatedly called for “unification,” and threatened to annex the island, whose 23 million residents regard themselves as Taiwanese, and, having democratized in the 1990s, have no wish to live under China’s authoritarian rule.

The U.S., which is obliged by its own laws to sell arms to Taiwan, had for decades appeared keen not to offend Beijing on the international stage. 

But the Biden administration has continued to deepen the diplomatic engagement with Taipei that was begun under President Trump, with official contacts now allowed and increasingly supportive statements coming out of Washington.