- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

GENEVA (AP) - A Taiwanese labor relations professor complained Wednesday to the United Nations after a study group that she has regularly led was blocked from an International Labor Organization conference in Geneva.

Li-chuan Liuhuang of Chung Cheng University wrote an open letter to ILO director-general Guy Ryder noting her group has had access to the U.N.’s Geneva offices since 2014 for the International Labor Conference, but was refused entry twice this week during the two-week session that runs through Friday.

The episode highlights concerns about where and when China might seek to block Taiwanese interests in the international arena since independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan last month.

U.N. officials, however, cited tighter security standards as one reason. A Chinese mission official declined to comment and deferred questions to the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency focused on global labor standards.

China made no move to block Taiwan’s participation in last week’s World Health Assembly at the Geneva office of the United Nations. Taiwan is not a U.N. member and has formal diplomatic ties with just 22 nations as a result of China’s efforts to isolate the island that it claims as its own territory.

In a phone interview, Liuhuang said she noticed “things distinctly changed” since last year, and said access for her group had become “more strict after our presidential election.”

She said in her letter that “the access application went smoothly” in 2014 and 2015. “This year, we came with the same goals … and the access was unexpectedly denied.”

In an e-mail, ILO spokesman Hans von Rohland said: “Any visitor is required to hold a passport of a state or entity recognized by the United Nations under relevant General Assembly resolutions.”

When asked by The Associated Press how Liuhuang’s group had gained admission in previous years, Rohland suggested that recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels also were a factor. “Due to the current security situation in Europe, international organizations have tightened their security measures,” he said. “On that basis, we had no choice to decide otherwise.”

Rheal Leblanc, a U.N. spokesman in Geneva, said the U.N. recognizes passports only from member states such as China, not Taiwan. He said Taiwanese visitors wishing to tour the immense Palais des Nations building could acquire a visitors badge for tourism, but not to attend official meetings.

“The ILO decides who can attend their conference. I cannot comment on what happened in the past,” he said by e-mail. “The same rules have been in place for some years and every effort is made to be consistent in their application.”

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