The China syndrome
On July 19, the UN ambassadors of Swaziland and the Solomon Islands took a letter from President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan asking for admission to the United Nations - under the name of Taiwan, not the traditional designation that the deceased president, Chiang Kai-shek, had lumbered the island with, the Republic of China. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon refused to accept the letter.
George Orwell would love the excuses. The spokeswoman for the secretary general of the UN said, "It's really up to the Member States of this Organization to decide on the future course of how it deals with new membership". This did not really explain why he would not put the letter before the members of the general assembly.
The UN claims that resolution 2758 which seated the People's Republic of China in 1971, precludes Taiwan's membership. This is highly arguable.
It quite rightly said that the PRC delegates were the "only lawful representatives" of China to the UN, and decided to "expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek".
But how much has changed since 1971! Firstly, the "representatives of Chiang Kai-shek" lost in democratic elections, and the elected government of Taipei has no pretence whatsoever to represent the Chinese mainland. Ironically Chiang's delegation only used their veto in the security council once - against the admission of Mongolia, which they considered as integral a part of the "one China" as the PRC now considers Taiwan!
With equal irony, the first veto from the PRC's delegation was against the membership of Bangladesh. What was then Peking saw no reason why the genocidal behaviour by Pakistan's generals against the citizenry of what was then East Pakistan in any way affected the "one Pakistan policy". Both Taiwan and the PRC have seen the light since. Taiwan no longer claims the mainland, let alone Mongolia, and Beijing and Bangladesh are quite prepared to maintain what have now become "traditional", friendly relations.
The UN bureaucracy's hypocritical response is an assault upon the principles of the UN charter. Resolution 2758 does not say what the Chinese say it does, and even if it did, it is like any other resolution, always open to question, amendment and rescission. It was the laws of the Medes and Persians that could not be rescinded, not UN resolutions. Indeed, to cover Israel's defiance of so many of them, the US now claims that general assembly resolutions are not binding!
None of the security council members such as the US have protested at this arbitrary withdrawal of the prerogative of members to put items on the agenda or to discuss previous resolutions.
As always there is a certain lack of consistency. No one said, for example, that the zionism is racism resolution of 1975 could not be rescinded, certainly not the US, which successfully moved to do just that in possibly the shortest ever resolutions. "The General Assembly decides to revoke the determination contained in its resolution 3379 (XXX) of 10 November 1975".
But then neither has any state complained that the UN's department of public information bans reporters from Taiwan on the totally spurious grounds that only reporters with a UN member state passport can attend, as the CPJ has so eloquently complained. Once again, the UN inappropriately cites that Swiss army knife of a resolution, 2758, which seems have a tool to extricate bureaucrats and diplomats from dragons' claws. So Taiwanese passport-holders and journalists can go to China - but not to the UN! One only hopes that the last few microstates, like Niue or the Cook Islands, can rustle up a correspondent to test the integrity of the UN's rules.
Indeed it will be interesting to see what happens to Kosovan media when the US recognises Kosovo's independence, and the Russians veto its UN membership.
The reflexive deference to China is bad for the US, the UN and the world. Beijing always comes back for more. In contrast, when China has threatened to veto UN operations in Haiti because of the Haitian recognition of Taiwan, the Latin American and Caribbean states have called its bluff and made it plain that that China would lose friends. It backed down.
Beijing is entitled to use its considerable influence on the floor of the general assembly. For the foreseeable future it will probably succeed in keeping 23 million people and one of the world's most advanced economies in a state of multilateral limbo. But for the UN secretariat to connive at stifling the debate is a threat to the principles of the organisation, just as its treatment of Taiwanese journalists makes a mockery of its annual celebration of World Press Freedom day. To be fair, Ban Ki-moon is only following in the footsteps that his predecessors should have shamefully concealed. One wishes he had the courage to blaze a new trail.