- - Monday, September 16, 2019


New York, get ready for some traffic snarls. The 74th United Nations General Assembly opens this this week, with leaders of many of the world’s nations jetting into Midtown Manhattan for meetings, speeches and debate on issues ranging from the Kashmir crisis to climate to development financing. Global leaders from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to U.S. President Donald Trump are expected to join the festivities. The latter two are, in fact, widely rumored to be planning to meet on the sidelines.

But there’s one nation that will sadly be excluded from the confab this week — a raucous, liberal democracy of 23 million people that boasts a developed, free-market economy, a robust civil society, and strong protections for freedom of expression, religion and assembly. We refer of course to Taiwan (nee the Republic of China), which since 1971, when the U.N. switched its recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing, has been summarily blocked from the global body. Poor Taiwan does not even merit observer status at the U.N.

Taiwan’s exclusion from the U.N. goes beyond its leaders being blocked from attending events like the General Assembly. Taiwan’s own ordinary citizens can be banned from even entering the grounds of the United Nations because it refuses to accept the Taiwanese passport as legitimate. Beijing ferociously opposes anything that smacks of granting Taipei legitimacy, and has worked furiously (and largely successfully) to bar Taiwan from even observing a number of global meetings. Taiwan has been barred from attending World Health Organization meetings in recent years, and also aviation conferences as well. (Needless to say, Taiwan has an aviation industry, and also doctors.)

This is a ridiculous situation. Set aside the eternal and confounding question of whether Beijing or Taipei truly represents the “real China,” and recognize the facts as they stand: Taiwan is a sovereign state, an economic powerhouse and a bulwark of freedom. Of course it’s a country. And therefore, of course, it deserves some recognition from the United Nations.

As far back as 1993, Taiwan has formally lobbied to be readmitted to the body. The government asked for the U.N. to consider its request based on the “[c]onsideration of the exceptional situation of the Republic of China in Taiwan in the international context, based on the principle of universality and in accordance with the established model of parallel representation of divided countries at the United Nations.” Both North and South Korea have seats at the U.N., for instance, and when they were divided, the two halves of Germany did, too. Taiwan’s pleas have fallen on deaf ears, however, and today membership seems further away than ever.

And herein lies an opportunity. Donald Trump has proven remarkably friendly to Taiwan — even before he was inaugurated, he took a phone call from Taiwan’s president, the first such contact between a U.S. and Taiwanese leader in decades. He has also not shied away from offending Beijing, or, indeed, the global leaders who populate the U.N. General Assembly.

When Mr. Trump visits New York to attend the General Assembly in several days time, he should raise the issue of Taiwan’s status at the U.N. and demand upgraded recognition. It would poke Beijing in the eye and garner media attention — two of the president’s favorite pastimes — and most crucially, be the right thing to do.

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