Taiwan's Exclusion from Global Governance

A child attends a rally titled "U.N. for Taiwan'" in Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung on Sept. 15, 2007.

This week, the leaders of the world will converge on the United Nations headquarters in New York. However, my country, the Republic of China (Taiwan), will be absent. As usual, when global matters of critical importance are discussed and debated, Taiwan's 23 million people will be denied participatory representation at the leading forum for advancing the interests and well being of the international community. Taiwan's continued exclusion from the U.N. system creates a loophole in global governance and compromises the principle of universality upon which the United Nations was founded.

The ROC was a founding Member of the United Nations, but lost its seat in October 1971 when the General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758. Since then, Taiwan has been systematically denied participation in the meetings, activities, mechanisms and conventions of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Recognizing both the injustice and risks of this situation, my government, under President Ma Ying-jeou's leadership, has adopted a policy of "viable diplomacy" and endeavored to be a responsible international stakeholder since May 2008. This policy, together with the reduction of tensions across the Taiwan Strait, has enabled us to gradually widen our international space, with the hope that a virtuous circle would take shape between the two. We have also adjusted the strategy for our U.N. campaign accordingly by seeking meaningful participation in U.N. specialized agencies and mechanisms that are crucial to the welfare of our people.

This pragmatic approach, which is supported by the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and the European Union in various degrees, has seen tangible results. Three years ago, the Taiwan health minister was invited for the first time as an observer to attend the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), and has participated in each subsequent WHA meeting. Meanwhile, Taiwan was included into the WHO's International Health Regulations and is now able to contribute to the Organization's collective efforts in pandemic control, monitoring and early warning.

Before the WHA opened its doors to Taiwan, our Department of Health was not able to receive timely and accurate data directly from the WHO to protect Taiwan's population from global pandemics. This was not an abstract danger; health workers acutely experienced the lethal challenges posed by this unsustainable situation during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003. Having gained preliminary participation, Taiwan is now demonstrating how a more sustained role in the WHO will allow our expertise to better contribute to the prevention of public health emergencies for both our citizens and all humankind.

Yet there remain many areas where the lack of international political will has prevented meaningful progress for the U.N. system. For example, Taiwan's inability to participate in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) prevents us from receiving firsthand the international aviation regulations and guidelines. With the Taipei Flight Information Region serving more than 1 million flights and nearly 40 million international and domestic passengers every year, our exclusion from this Organization must end.

Others agree. The European Parliament, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee have passed resolutions supporting Taiwan's bid to become an observer at the ICAO, noting that the post-9/11 world cannot bear to have a gap in procedures needed to sustain confidence in commercial aviation.

On another global front—the environment—Taiwan endures along with others many of the extreme weather events brought by climate change, especially typhoons and flooding. Yet we are unable to collaborate with other vulnerable nations in multilateral settings to formulate adaptation strategies. As the world's 22nd-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, accounting for 1 percent of the global total, there is clearly a need for Taiwan to be a part of the global regime to combat climate change, i.e. the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Yet despite obstacles to meaningful participation in the UNFCCC, Taiwan has enacted a series of environmental laws and voluntarily pledged to reduce its GHG emissions by at least 30 percent by 2020 relative to the business-as-usual benchmark—a leading role that would contribute significantly to the UNFCCC's efforts to advance global cooperation.

The people of Taiwan recognize the potential risks to themselves and others that may arise from their inability to participate in the international discourse on aviation safety and climate change. The government, therefore, announced in September 2009 that it would seek support from the international community for its bid to participate as an observer in both ICAO and the UNFCCC.

We will continue to lead by example whenever possible, and voice our concerns when necessary. We learned in May this year, through a leaked WHO internal memo, that the WHO has been mistreating Taiwan by, for example, referring to us as a "Province of China." Consequently, our minister of health lodged a strong protest at this May's WHA in Geneva and requested that the WHO redress the situation. The minister also urged that the practice of inviting Taiwan to attend the WHA and related arrangements, which we call the "WHA model," be reflected in all other WHO meetings, mechanisms, information sources and documentation. We appreciated that some nations swiftly came to Taiwan's defense, while recognizing that the challenges imposed by Resolution 2758 of 1971 still remain.

In the era of globalization, the international community is only as strong as its weakest links. The dangers of global warming, terrorism, financial crises and natural disasters will not stop at the borders of any nation, including Taiwan. It is for this reason that despite significant constraints, we have shared technical expertise with developing countries that face the challenge of modernization without causing undue social and environmental harm. We have endeavored to help realize the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through substantial cooperation in agriculture, education and infrastructure in 28 partner countries. We have upheld the highest standards in health, aviation, maritime transportation, financial transparency, telecommunication technology, environmental protection and food safety—efforts that cannot, and should not, continue outside the U.N. system, whose mandate is to improve the lives of all the world's people.

As a stable democracy with the 18th-largest economy, Taiwan is poised to play a positive role in enhancing global governance, and can shoulder its obligations as a responsible stakeholder of the international community. Taiwan's participation in the WHO must be promoted, not eroded, and other U.N. organizations and mechanisms like the ICAO and UNFCCC should take the "WHA model" as a useful precedent and find a suitable and creative way to allow for Taiwan's meaningful participation. Taiwan has opened its doors to the world. Now it is time for the U.N. system to open its doors to Taiwan.


Timothy Yang is the foreign minister of the Republic of China (Taiwan).