By James O’Neill*
The status of the island of Taiwan has once again risen in the United Nations with its position as a prospective new member of the UN being supported by the United States. This reflects the ambivalent role the United States has always played on the status of Taiwan.
When the United Nations was formed in 1945, China was one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The Civil War that raged in China after the Japanese were defeated resulted in the Communist Party gaining control of the mainland. Astonishingly, China’s seat on the United Nations Security Council was retained by the defeated Nationalists, then under the control of Chiang Kai Shek. It could in no sense of the word be considered a democracy.
It was, for example, ruled under martial law from 1949 to 1992 when the first free elections were held to the Taiwanese parliament. It was thus a dictatorship for the entire time it held China’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. The actual status of the Taiwanese government during the years it held its seat on the Security Council made a mockery of the United States’ claims to support Taiwanese “democracy” during the post-1949 period.
Resolution 2758 was put to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 26 October 1971. This followed the introduction of a resolution sponsored by Albania and 16 other members on 15 July 1971 requested that the question of the restoration of the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations be placed on the agenda.
It was a motion fought against by the United States which attempted to gain support for several amendments. Those amendments would have assured a continuing role for Taiwan in the United Nations. Albania was clear that the existence of the PRC was a reality that could not be changed to suit the myth of a so-called Republic of China fabricated out of a portion of Chinese territory.
The United States’ attempts at sabotaging the vote were unsuccessful. The resolution passed by 76 to 35, with 17 abstentions. Most European countries supported the motion. None voted against, although Spain, Greece, and Luxenberg were among the 17 abstentions.
Of the 35 countries against the resolution, most were from South America, but they also included Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. Of the votes against, only New Zealand has since publicly expressed remorse for its original anti vote.
‘The United States, although officially recognising the PRC as the legitimate Chinese representative in the United Nations has never ceased support for Taiwan. It has for example, recently expressed support for the notion of Taiwan’s representation in the General Assembly of the United Nations. There is almost no real support for the US actions. Taiwan is currently recognised by only 15 states, mostly in the Caribbean, but include, perhaps surprisingly, the Holy See.
What it does represent is that the United States has never lost interest in its ambivalence towards the People’s Republic of China. Their current support for Taiwan included a recent statement by president Joe Biden that the United States supported Taiwan’s independence from China. As noted, the United States also supported Taiwan’s admission to the United Nations General Assembly.
Taiwan itself has now at least stopped pretending that it represents China and prefers that we choose to forget the many decades when it claimed to be the representative of China. It has recently started making statements suggestive of an independent existence. It is a position resolutely opposed by China itself who firmly hold the view that Taiwan will be returned sooner rather than later to the control of the Beijing government.
An extraordinary statement was recently made by Australia’s defence minister, Peter Dutton. Speaking a few days ago, Dutton made the extraordinary claim that Australia would come to the defence of Taiwan if the PRC attempted to forcibly recover the island for control by the mainland. It is difficult to conceive of a more harebrained scheme by an Australian minister of defence.
Presumably, such action would be in support of similar moves by the United States. It is difficult to find any serious commentator who argues that such a confrontation between China and United States would end in a US victory. Only last week the United States head of the military General Mark Milley warned that the United States would almost certainly lose a war with China over Taiwan. Dutton cannot be unaware of this evaluation, which makes his statement of support for Taiwan all the more astonishing.
Australia has no formal diplomatic links to Taipei, although the recent visit to the island my former prime minister Tony Abbott had high level official government support. Abbott made some typically ill-considered comments of support for Taipei. Although no longer a member of the government, having lost his Parliamentary seat at the last election, there is little doubt that Abbott’s views are widely accepted by the government.
They echo similarly ill-considered comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who earned the ire of the Chinese, and the loss of billions of dollars of trade, by calling for an inquiry into the origins of the Covid 19 disease. Morrison was loyally echoing then United States President Donald Trump. Not for the first time, Morrison’s ill-considered remarks have had devastating consequences, both economically and politically.
The Australian government has also contributed one of its warships to join the United States in so-called freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea. This is a blatantly hostile action against the PRC. The Australian government, like the Americans, are unable to point to a single instance of the free movement of shipping in the South China Sea being impeded in any way, much less by the PRC.
China has for at least the last two decades, been Australia’s largest trading partner, a status now seriously in danger because of the government ill-considered remarks and actions. Even if there is a change of government after the next general election, due no later than May of next year, it is difficult to see any serious action being taken to repair the trade damage done by the government’s ill-considered remarks, of which those by Dutton and Morrison are but two examples.
The opposition Labor Party, which currently has a comfortable lead in the polls, is scarcely any better in its attitude toward China. Short of a radical change in policy towards the PRC, Australia faces a very difficult trading situation that will not be easily repaired.