03.11.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the 50th Anniversary of PRC’s Membership in the UN; the Taiwan Factor

Chinese President Xi delivers a speech during a high-level event in the Assembly Hall at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva

The eve of the 50th anniversary of PRC’s membership in the UN served as a pretext for another propaganda attack by Washington against its primary geopolitical opponent. Recall Resolution No. 2578, “Restoration of the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations,” adopted by the General Assembly on October 25, 1971, at the regular session of this esteemed organization.

Putting aside the question of the correctness of the term restoration in the title of this document let us underline a few noteworthy concomitant facts which are acquiring particular relevance in current international politics.

Firstly, the said resolution was supported by both main adversaries, the USSR and the USA, of the global conflict of that period, known as the Cold War. In those realities, it didn’t happen very often. In doing so, each of them was guided by their own considerations.

From the Soviet side, it was a demonstration of respect for the great country of ancient culture. The aggravation of relations with its leadership was considered a transient phenomenon. Generally speaking, the above considerations turned out to be correct. Today, when the comprehensive development of Russia’s relations with China is of particular relevance, the fact that the USSR voted in favor of the resolution under discussion undoubtedly works in favor of this process.

The US leadership, on the other hand, proceeded from relatively short-term considerations, conditioned by the current state of the escalating conflict with its main geopolitical enemy of that period. The success of the entire combination, which was conceived 20 years earlier, turned out to be intermediate by the end of the ’80s. Today, the de facto ally of that period is the primary source of geopolitical problems of Washington.

At any rate, that is how a part of the American elite perceives that China is becoming the second global power. Once again, note that at least American business does not agree with the political confrontation with Beijing.

One of the costs of that success was the gradual denial of full-fledged statehood to Taiwan, which is practically Washington’s most loyal ally in Asia, which began at the same time on October 25, 1971. The People’s Republic of China has taken its place in the UN and the Security Council. This process ended in 1979 with the establishment of US-China diplomatic relations.

Meanwhile, given the current aggravating confrontation with China, Washington is partially attempting to win back some critical aspects of the Taiwan issue. The first such action of the new US Administration was the invitation of the head of the Taiwanese mission in the US (de facto Embassy) to the inauguration ceremony of  Joe Biden on January 20 this year. This happened for the first time since 1979 when the US-Taiwan diplomatic relations were terminated.

The eve of the 50th anniversary of China’s membership in the UN was marked by no less significant event: an affirmative response of President Joe Biden to a question posed to him on October 21 in Baltimore by a CNN reporter about the possibility of providing armed support to Taiwan “in case of an attack from China.” Specifically Joe Biden said, “Yes, we have an obligation to do that.”

Sometime later, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified that there has been no change in the current US Administration’s policy on the Taiwan issue. However, she refused to answer the question of whether her boss had misspoken in this case.

Here, it is necessary to make some remarks concerning the American president’s above-mentioned statement and the “explanations” of his Press Secretary. There seems to be an apparent contradiction between the words of Joe Biden regarding obligations to protect Taiwan and the provisions of the country’s 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (which, moreover, is not an act of international law). TRA-1979 merely states that the US would “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes (…) of grave concern to the United States.”

At the same time, Washington reserved the possibility of selling “defensive” weapons to the island. An impressive list, in both variety and cost, of weapons systems purchased by Taiwan from the United States over the past 40 years can be found here.

Yet, again, both TRA-1979 and a series of subsequent presidential decrees on the Taiwan problem left Washington free to choose (or waive) countermeasures in whatever the nature of developments in the Taiwan Strait. Not to mention that any lengthy armed intervention would require congressional approval.

This situation boils down to the so-called US strategy of ambiguity on the Taiwan issue, which the hawkish wing of US politics has recently heavily criticized. This wing demands a transition to strategic clarity: the rejection of the “one-China principle” and establishing “normal” interstate relations with an independent state in the form of current Taiwan.

Firstly, this would mean a complete revision of the format of the US-Taiwan relations established on October 25, 1971, and finalized in 1979. Secondly, the current very complicated relations between the two leading world powers, the US and China, would begin to shift irreversibly to the side with “global disaster” written on its edge.

Meanwhile, activities continue at the non- or semi-official level that could serve as the basis for a formal review of US-Taiwan relations. What is interesting, on October 22, i.e., the day after the discussed statement of Joe Biden, it was reported on the State Department website that the US missions in Taiwan and the Taiwan mission in the US (officially informal) convened a video meeting of “high-level officials” of foreign ministries of both sides. The name of the event is “US – Taiwan Working Group Meeting on International Organizations (IO Talks).”

The above mentioned State Department communication disclosed that the list of wide-ranging issues discussed had focused on supporting Taiwan’s intention to meaningfully participate in various UN-related organizations.

So, after all, is it true that on October 21, Joe Biden once again (after the previous supposed “slip up“, apparently made amid the grave impression left on the allies by the format of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan) made a “slip of tongue” on the Taiwan problem?

Given the silence on the subject by Joe Biden’s Press Secretary, let us suggest the exaggerated nature of the popular media thesis concerning age-related personality deformities (which, generally speaking, are inevitable) of the American President. At any rate, in the period of “radical global transformations,” it is an appropriate image for a leader who has to make, or at least be responsible for, some risky decisions, which can always be “amended.” As if a signal is being sent into the political space: “Guys, like the Chinese, you understand the kind of president we got today. Don’t worry; everything will be OK.”

In fact, with the help of the President’s alleged slip-ups, one can probe the political ground for the upcoming adoption of those risky decisions. These are dangerous games, especially in regards to relations with the primary geopolitical opponent.

Once again, let us emphasize that Beijing’s position on Taiwan’s relations with the outside world is not fundamentally uncompromising. It is more about the inevitable consequences of Mainland’s tense relationship with Taiwan’s current Democratic Progressive Party leadership. Let’s recall that since its inception in the late 1980s, the DPP has been pursuing, to varying degrees, depending on time and circumstance, the acquisition of a full-fledged statehood on the island.

The DPP’s Taiwanese political opponent, the Kuomintang, is not a bowl of cherries for Beijing either. But with this party, which at least pays lip service to the “One China Principle” and the so-called “1992 Consensus“, it is somehow possible to have a kind of dialogue and build constructive relations. Exactly that happened during the last period (2008-2016) of the Kuomintang in power in Taiwan. Perhaps the only thing that holds Beijing back today from the highly disadvantageous non-peaceful way of resolving the Taiwan problem is the expectation of a possible return of the Kuomintang to power through an electoral process.

The use of arms in addressing the said problem would contradict the key global concept of the current Chinese leadership, known as the Community of Common Destiny. The latter has been successfully implemented in the Third World through the Belt and Road Initiative project. Among the various components of China’s foreign policy that ensured a sharp rise in its prestige in the international arena, its active participation in the UN has also become an essential element.

The Global Times commentary on China’s Foreign Ministry’s review of 50 years of membership in the organization stresses that “China will firmly follow the path of peaceful development and never seek hegemony, expansion, or spheres of influence.”

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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