China and the United Nations

From Academic Kids

China's seat in the United Nations has been occupied by the People's Republic of China since November 23, 1971. It was previously held by the Republic of China.


The ROC in the UN

The Republic of China (ROC) was one of the founding members of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council from its creation in 1945. In 1949 the Communist Party of China seized power on the mainland and declared the People's Republic of China (PRC), claiming to have replaced the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China. The ROC government withdrew to Taiwan, where it has continued to rule ever since.

Until 1991, the ROC also actively claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China, and during the 1950s and 1960s this claim was accepted by the United States and some (though far from all) of its allies. While the PRC was an ally of the Soviet Union, the U.S. sought to prevent the Communist bloc from gaining another permanent seat in the Security Council. To protest the exclusion of the PRC, Soviet representatives boycotted the UN from January to August of 1950 and their absence allowed for the intervention of UN military forces in Korea.

In 1952, the ROC complained to the UN against the Soviet Union for violating the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of 14 August 1945 and the Charter of the United Nations. The UN General Assembly has found that the Soviet Union prevented the National Government of the ROC from re-establishing Chinese authority in Manchuria after Japan surrendered and gave military and economic aid to the Chinese Communists, who founded the PRC in 1949, against the National Government of the ROC. Resolution 505 was passed to condemn the Soviet Union with 25 countries supporting, 9 countries opposing and 24 countries abstaining.

The ROC used its veto once - in 1955, the ROC representative cast the only Security Council veto blocking the admission of the People's Republic of Mongolia to the United Nations on the grounds that all of Mongolia was part of China. This postponed the admission of Mongolia until 1960, when the Soviet Union announced that unless Mongolia was admitted, it would block the admission of all of the newly independent African states. Faced with this pressure, the ROC relented under protest.

From the 1960s onwards, nations friendly to the PRC, led by Albania, moved an annual resolution in the General Assembly to transfer China's seat at the UN from the ROC to the PRC. Every year the United States was able to assemble a majority of votes to block this resolution. But the admission of newly independent developing nations in the 1960s gradually turned the General Assembly from being Western-dominated to being dominated by countries sympathetic to Beijing. In addition, the desire of the Nixon administration to improve relations with Beijing to counterbalance the Soviet Union reduced American willingness to support the ROC.

As a result of these trends, on October 25, 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the General Assembly, withdrawing recognition of the ROC as the legitimate government of China, and recognising the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China.

The Resolution declared "that the representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations." Because this resolution was on an issue of credentials rather than one of membership, it was possible to bypass the Security Council where the United States and the ROC could have used their vetoes.

The PRC in the UN

Although the entry of the PRC into the UN was supported by much of the third world with the expectation that it would become an active proponent of the Non-Aligned Movement, the PRC has had mostly a passive role within the UN since 1971. It has only rarely been an active mover of events within the UN and this occurs mainly when it perceives its national interests to be at stake. The most notable example of this was in the 1990s when the PRC vetoed peacekeeping missions to Macedonia and Guatemala over these nations' recognition of the ROC.

The PRC has been sparing in its use of the Security Council veto, only using it four times: in 1972 to veto the admission of Bangladesh, in 1972, in conjunction with the Soviet Union to veto a resolution on the ceasefire in the Six-Day War, in 1997 to veto ceasefire observers to Guatemala, and in 1999 to veto an extension of observers to Macedonia.

Since its first dispatch of military observers to the United Nations peacekeeping operations in 1990, China has sent 3,362 military personnel to 13 UN peacekeeping operations. In 1998 it sent a team of civilian police to East Timor as part of the UN force there. Also, China sent another team of non-combat military force to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the end of the Cold War, the PRC has notably not attempted to use the UN as a counterbalance against the United States as Russia and France have done. In the 1991 Gulf War resolution, the PRC abstained, and it voted for the ultimatum to Iraq in the period leading up to the Second Gulf War. Most observers believe that the PRC would have abstained had a resolution authorising force against Iraq reached the Security Council.

Recent events with respect to Taiwan

Since 1991, the ROC has asserted that it wishes to rejoin (or, as it styles its proposals, "to participate in") the UN. But because of the implacable opposition of the PRC, this is unlikely. Every year since 1991 the question of the ROC's representation has been raised on the UN agenda committee by its diplomatic allies, but has always failed to get sufficient votes to get on the formal agenda.

Proponents of Taiwan independence claim that if the government on Taiwan were formally to renounce its claim to be also the government of mainland China and outer Mongolia, and rename itself the Republic of Taiwan, this new state could then be admitted to the UN. They assert that if Taiwan were to take this step, the international community would be placed in a difficult position, caught between the PRC's internationally recognised claim that Taiwan is a province of China and the right of the people of Taiwan to self-determination. The resolutions proposing ROC representation since 1991 make it clear that it no longer seeks to represent all of China, but only the 23 million people of Taiwan. In the bids to join the UN under President Lee Teng-hui, the ROC called itself the "Republic of China on Taiwan." Under Chen Shui-bian, the designation has been "Republic of China (Taiwan)," and there are calls to enter as just "Taiwan." On November 15, 2004, Chen declared he would push to get the ROC included in the United Nations under the name Taiwan. He was quoted saying that "Taiwan is a sovereign state, should join the United Nations in the name of Taiwan".

Skeptics point out that the PRC still has a Security Council veto and would likely be firmly opposed to any kind of international recognition of a Taiwanese state. They also point out that the UN has been reluctant to admit any state whose sovereignty is disputed. The PRC has condemned any move to enter as "Taiwan" as a political trick to promote Taiwan independence, though it does not find the "Republic of China" much more palatable.

Although the ROC no longer actively asserts its claim to be the government of the whole of China, neither has it formally renounced that claim. Given the PRC's attitude, even having the General Assembly admit Taiwan as an observer (as has been done with the Palestinian Authority) would be problematic. The General Assembly is dominated by developing nations, many with historic ties to the PRC, and many also with their own areas of disputed sovereignty.

Nonetheless, in the 1990s, the ROC sought to gain representation at the UN by subsidising developing nations such as the tiny Pacific state of Tuvalu. This strategy has become increasingly difficult as the PRC has begun to have the economic power to counter Taiwanese moves.

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