By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Taiwan banked on its allies in the Pacific islands region to back its renewed bid for readmission into the United Nations, which China has been so adamant to hinder. The few loyal friends stood by Taiwan’s side.
The islands region has been caught in a tug of war between China and Taiwan as Beijing persistently attempts to put a squeeze on its former province’s few diplomatic partners.
At the 76th session of the UN General Assembly last month, Taiwan managed to secure endorsements from four island leaders who responded to its solicitation for support.
“Taiwan is ready, willing and able to work jointly with the rest of the world and contribute to UN efforts toward recovery at this critical time," Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement appealing to the international community to help lift its pariah status in the UN.
Pacific island nations recognize they have a stake in the protracted conflict between Beijing and Taipei, which compete for clout in the region that plays a key role in the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy.
The diplomatic map was redrawn in 2019 when Kiribati and Solomon Islands— the sites of China’s multimillion-dollar investments— ditched Taiwan and switched allegiance to the communist nation.
“My own Pacific islands region faces a new emerging security threat in the form of geopolitical competition,” Marshall Islands President David Kabua said at the UN assembly, urging the intergovernmental body to put an end to the "shameful silence" on Taiwan's longstanding exclusion from the UN system.
"As a people-centric institution, the UN cannot ignore the Taiwanese people or continue to use their nationality to exclude them from attending public meetings or public tours at its headquarters. The shameful silence must end," Kabua said. "The democratic government of Taiwan should be allowed to participate in an equal and dignified manner within the UN system," he added.
Without directly addressing China’s poor human rights records, Kabua said the Marshall Islands has always strived to maintain an independent democracy and protect the basic human rights of its citizens. “As island leaders we must remain firmly in control of our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and stand apart from any who would seek to have us trade our core values for easy inducement,” he said.
Taiwan’s secession from communist China has created a rivalry for the rightful international representative of “China.”
Taiwan was a founding member of the UN in 1949 until it was replaced by China in 1971 following a resolution that pushed the renegade democratic province to the periphery.
Taiwan has since been the world’s dilemma. Its democratic system of government suits well with many democratic nations, but its status as a sovereign nation remains an unresolved issue. So far, China has been successful in its campaign against its breakaway province, managing to secure the one-China principle in its favor and keep Taiwan in the desert land.
In 2007, the UN rejected Taiwan’s plea for inclusion in the body, maintaining that "Taiwan is part of China."
Renewing its campaign for UN participation, Taiwan vowed its “strong commitment to making regional and global contributions,” characterizing the state as “a strong and indispensable partner in global pandemic response and post-pandemic recovery.”
At least, 15 UN member-states, including four Pacific island nations, have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
The diplomatic rivalry between China and Taiwan underscores the Pacific islands region’s own divide. When China snagged the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen knew she had to double her diplomatic efforts. She received pledges of allegiance from its remaining allies— Palau, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
The Federated States of Micronesia maintains its one-China policy in favor of Beijing, one of its biggest foreign donors. As it is, the FSM hedges its bet between China and the U.S., with whom it is tied under the Compact of Free Association.
The four Micronesian allies renewed their support for Taiwan by endorsing its bid to return to the UN fold.
"Not only have they demonstrated consistent and effective management of the pandemic within their borders, but their leadership has also extended to Palau," Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. told the body. "Taiwan’s international response facilitated cooperation and implementation of an effective sterile travel corridor between Taiwan and Palau."
Whipps has been vocal about his mistrust of China, which imposed a ban on state-run package tours to Palau in 2017 in an attempt to pressure the Pacific nation to drop Taiwan.
Nauru President Lionel Aingimea vouched for Taiwan’s “exemplary contributions globally in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic,” including to his own country.
The Nauru president said Taiwan has the capability to achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and is already supporting the targets.
The 23 million people of Taiwan, Aingimea said, should “enjoy the same rights as the peoples of other nations,” and “should not be sidelined in international organizations like the World Health Assembly.”
Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano called for the UN to recognize the Taiwanese’ right to access UN premises.
It is “most regrettable” to see the ongoing injustice of Taiwanese being barred from visiting or having meetings on UN premises simply because the UN fails to recognize their passport,” Natano said. “Granting Taiwanese passport holders’ access to UN premises is an essential step for the meaningful participation of Taiwan and the Taiwanese people in the UN system.”