China's seat in the United Nations and membership of the United Nations Security Council has been occupied by the People's Republic of China (PRC) since October 25, 1971. The representatives of the PRC first attended the UN, including the United Nations Security Council, as China's representatives on November 23, 1971. China's seat in all UN organs had been previously held by the Republic of China (ROC) since the UN's founding (1945-1971), until replaced by the PRC.
Until 1991, the ROC also actively claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China, and during the 1950s and 1960s this claim was accepted by the United States and most of its allies. While the PRC was an ally of the Soviet Union, the U.S. sought to prevent the Communist bloc from gaining another permanent seat in the Security Council. To protest the exclusion of the PRC, Soviet representatives boycotted the UN from January to August 1950 and their absence allowed for the intervention of UN military forces in Korea.
In 1952, the ROC complained to the UN against the Soviet Union for violating the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of 14 August 1945 and the Charter of the United Nations. The UN General Assembly has found that the Soviet Union prevented the National Government of the ROC from re-establishing Chinese authority in Manchuria after Japan surrendered and gave military and economic aid to the Chinese Communists, who founded the PRC in 1949, against the National Government of the ROC. Resolution 505 was passed to condemn the Soviet Union with 25 countries supporting, 9 countries opposing and 24 countries abstaining.
The ROC used its veto once — in 1955, the ROC representative cast the only Security Council veto blocking the admission of the Mongolian People's Republic to the United Nations on the grounds that all of Mongolia was part of China. This postponed the admission of Mongolia until 1960, when the Soviet Union announced that unless Mongolia was admitted, it would block the admission of all of the newly independent African states. Faced with this pressure, the ROC relented under protest.
From the 1960s onwards, nations friendly to the PRC, led by the People's Republic of Albania under Enver Hoxha, moved an annual resolution in the General Assembly to transfer China's seat at the UN from the ROC to the PRC. Every year the United States was able to assemble a majority of votes to block this resolution. But the admission of newly independent developing nations in the 1960s gradually turned the General Assembly from being Western-dominated to being dominated by countries sympathetic to Beijing. In addition, the desire of the Nixon administration to improve relations with the de facto government of mainland China to counterbalance the Soviet Union reduced American willingness to support the ROC.
As a result of these trends, on October 25, 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the General Assembly, withdrawing recognition of the ROC as the legitimate government of China, and recognizing the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. PRC received support from two-thirds of all United Nations' members including approval by the Security Council members excluding the ROC.
The General Assembly Resolution declared "that the representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations." Because this resolution was on an issue of credentials rather than one of membership, it was possible to bypass the Security Council where the United States and the ROC could have used their vetoes.
Since 1991 the ROC (now commonly known as Taiwan) has re-applied for UN membership to represent the people of Taiwan and its outlying islands only, under such names as "The Republic of China (Taiwan)," "The Republic of China on Taiwan," and most recently (in July 2007, under DPP President Chen Shui-bian) as simply "Taiwan." The island has also requested that the UN consider the issue of its representation in other ways, such as granting it status as a "non-member entity," a position currently held by Palestine. Due to the opposition of the PRC, however, which holds veto power in the Security Council, all such applications have been denied. The ROC continues to call on the international body to recognize the rights of the 23 million people of Taiwan, who since 1971 have received no representation in the UN, or in its related international affiliates such as the World Health Organization.
Ban Ki-moon came under fire for this statement from the ROC, which states that Resolution 2758 merely transferred the UN seat from the ROC to the PRC, but did not address the issue of Taiwan's representation in the UN. They emphasize that the PRC government has never held jurisdiction over Taiwan and that the United Nations has never taken a formal stance regarding the sovereignty of Taiwan. Additionally, both the ROC and international newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal have criticized Ban Ki-moon for rejecting the ROC's July 2007 application without passing it on to the Security Council, a violation of the UN's standard procedure, and for saying that Resolution 2758 stated that Taiwan was part of China.
There was wide speculation throughout the 1960s and early 1970s that the United States' close ally, Pakistan, especially under the presidency of Ayub Khan, was carrying out undercover diplomacy to instigate Western support to the PRC's entry into the UN. This involved secret visits by American officials to the PRC. In 1971, Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to the PRC through Pakistan.
The PRC has been sparing in its use of the Security Council veto, only using it six times: in 1972 to veto the admission of Bangladesh (which it considered a rebellious province of its ally Pakistan), in 1973 (in conjunction with the Soviet Union) to veto a resolution on the ceasefire in the Yom Kippur War, in 1997 to veto ceasefire observers to Guatemala (which accepted the ROC as legitimate), in 1999 to veto an extension of observers to the Republic of Macedonia (same), in 2007 (in conjunction with Russia) to veto criticizing Myanmar on its human rights record. and in 2008 (with Russia) to veto sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Since its first dispatch of military observers to the United Nations peacekeeping operations in 1990, the PRC has sent 3,362 military personnel to 13 UN peacekeeping operations. In 1999 it sent a team of civilian police to East Timor as part of the UN force there. Also, China sent another team of non-combat military force to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Since the end of the Cold War, the PRC has notably not attempted to use the UN as a counterbalance against the United States as Russia and France have done. In the 1991 Gulf War resolution, the PRC abstained, and it voted for the ultimatum to Iraq in the period leading up to the Second Gulf War. Most observers believe that the PRC would have abstained had a resolution authorising force against Iraq in 2003 reached the Security Council.
Since 1993, the ROC has made attempts to rejoin (or, as worded in its proposals, "to participate in") the UN, but because of the implacable opposition of the PRC, which holds veto power in the Security Council, and the lack of support from member nations who upheld the One China Policy recognizing Taiwan as an inalienable part of China, the ROC has consistently been denied. In fact all 5 permanent members of the Security Council are opposed to ROC's membership. Every year since 1991 the question of the ROC's representation has been raised on the UN agenda committee by its diplomatic allies, but has always failed to get sufficient votes to get on the formal agenda.
Proponents of Taiwan independence claim that if the government in Taiwan were formally to renounce its claim to be also the government of mainland China and outer Mongolia, and rename itself the Republic of Taiwan, this new state could then be admitted to the UN. However, if Taiwan were to take this step, the international community would be placed in a difficult position, caught between the PRC's claim that Taiwan is a province of China and the right of the people of Taiwan to self-determination. The resolutions proposing ROC representation since 1991 make it clear that it no longer seeks to represent all of China, but only the people of Taiwan. In the bids to join the UN under President Lee Teng-hui, the ROC called itself the "Republic of China on Taiwan." Under Chen Shui-bian, the designation has been "Republic of China (Taiwan)," and the most recent application by President Chen (July 19, 2007) used only the designation "Taiwan." Chen was quoted saying that "Taiwan is a sovereign state, and should join the United Nations by the name Taiwan".
Sceptics point out that the PRC still has a Security Council veto and would likely be firmly opposed to any kind of international recognition of a Taiwanese state. They also point out that the UN has been reluctant to admit any state whose sovereignty is disputed, although Palestine has been granted observer status. The PRC has condemned any move to enter as "Taiwan" as a political trick to promote Taiwan independence, though it firmly opposes Taiwan's entry under any moniker whatsoever.
Although the ROC no longer actively asserts its claim to be the government of the whole of China, it has not renounced that claim. Taiwan independence supporters argue the ROC not renourncing its claim is mainly because the PRC has publicly stated that any movement to change the ROC constitution would be seen as a move towards declaring independence, and thus a reason for military action. Given the PRC's attitude, even having the General Assembly admit the ROC or "Taiwan" as an observer (as has been done with Palestine) would be problematic. The General Assembly is dominated by developing nations, many with historic ties to the PRC, and many also with their own areas of disputed sovereignty. The case of Palestine is distinguishable from that of the ROC, due to the UN's commitment to a two state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, and no such commitment to the Taiwan issue.
Nonetheless, in the 1990s, the ROC sought to gain representation at the UN by subsidizing developing nations such as the Pacific state of Tuvalu. This strategy has become increasingly difficult as not many states are willing to risk bad relations with the PRC in exchange for monetary benefits from the ROC, especially since the PRC now has the economic power to counter such ROC moves. Taiwan's ties with Central America, however, still remain fairly strong.
In July 2007, the Republic of China applied for membership for the fifteenth time since its expulsion. This was the first occasion the state applied for full membership under the name "Taiwan". Its application was rejected by the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, citing UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The ROC government criticized UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for returning the application without passing the document on to the Security Council, contrary to the Council’s standard procedure, and for stating that "the government of China is the sole and legitimate government and the position of the United Nations is that Taiwan is part of China," a position that has never been formally stated by the UN before. The PRC government praised the rejection as reflection of the UN's adherence to the "one-China policy However, Ban has come under fire for disregarding UN protocol about passing down the question of the ROC membership to the General Assembly. Instead, Ban Ki Moon took it upon himself to reject the membership on the basis of his interpretation of Resolution 2758.
The ROC reapplied for full UN membership on Sept. 18, 2007. On September 15, 2007, over 3000 Taiwanese Americans and their supporters rallied in front of UN in New York City to demonstrate their support for the ROC's entering the UN. At the same time, over 300,000 Taiwanese people rallied in Taiwan to make the same plea. The ROC has also won the backing of many Members of the European Parliament on this issue. Spurred on by President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, this recent application has been reputedly more intense and widely-received than in past years.
In 2008, two referenda in Taiwan to join the UN failed due to low voter participation (see Republic of China United Nations membership referendum, 2008). The United Nations subcommittee on September 17, 2008, has again ruled it would not let the General Assembly consider the ROC's request for permission to join U.N. activities, demonstrating U.N. members' upholding the One China Policy. However, shortly after the denial at the UN, the United States and the European Union have both expressed their support for the ROC to have "meaningful participation" in UN agencies that would not require statehood, such as the World Health Organisation.