Perspectives on Taiwan and the United Nations: A Personal Journey

by Iris Ho

On September 15, I will be in New York to take part in the “UN for Taiwan” rally that will take place simultaneously with the one held in Taiwan. I have been looking forward to this event and am excited to see many friends there!

It has been 35 years since the people of Taiwan have had any representation in the United Nations. Accordingly, Taiwan is not a member of any other UN-affiliated organizations, such as the World Health Organization, which failed to provide any medical assistance to Taiwan when SARS took 80 Taiwanese lives a few years ago. Year after year, the UN voted down proposals submitted by Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to discuss Taiwan’s UN representation in its annual gathering every September. This year, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rejected Taiwan’s UN application outright without forwarding it to the Security Council as mandated by the council’s rules and procedures.

Throughout my life, international relations have always been my passion. I pursued a minor in international relations for my undergraduate studies at National Cheng-chi University in Taipei. I was fascinated by the history, the grand missions and the humanitarian accomplishments of international organizations, such as the United Nations, as taught by my Taiwanese professors and from what I read in the text books. I memorized with enthusiasm everything we learned about all the good deeds done by the United Nations. My dream was to work in the United Nations one day.

In my junior year in college, I had a chance to live in Cambridge, UK for a summer. One weekend, all my friends planned to visit Spain, however, I was the only one from Taiwan and the only one who had to apply for a visa. The Spanish consulate told me that because Spain and Taiwan did not have diplomatic relations, I could not get my visa in time before my friends left for Spain. I was left alone in a big empty house while my friends waved goodbye and were on their way to drink Sangria, dance the Flamenco and visit the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona.

I then realized that, as a Taiwanese national, I would never be able to work for the United Nations – simply because Taiwan is not a member state. I had believed that the United Nations existed to protect the weak, to right wrongs and injustices, and to assist those in need. I thought all people around the world could belong to the United Nations as the organization claims in its Charter. Apparently this did not apply to the people of Taiwan.

This year, for the first time ever, the Taiwanese government attempted to apply for UN membership under the name “Taiwan.” Over the past decade, Taiwan’s government pushed for the Republic of China’s “returning” to the UN. Anyone with a tiny sense and understanding of world affairs would know that the older approach would never work.

Today’s Taiwan is a democratic and prosperous nation with a population larger than two thirds of the members of the UN. The name “Taiwan” is associated with many success stories known throughout the international community. Acer, BenQ, Chien-Ming Wang and many more – all “Made in Taiwan.” Ugly politics and naked Chinese intimidation stand in the way of Taiwan’s accession to the UN.

What upsets me even more is that the United States, the country where I reside today, repeatedly rejects Taiwan’s plans of holding a referendum on this issue next spring. A referendum is the most basic democratic mechanism representing a people’s will. It was the generation of Taiwanese democracy activists before us who sacrificed their lives and freedom, so that the people in Taiwan today could participate in peaceful referendums and free elections.

How can the United States, while it champions global freedom and democracy, not support a referendum in Taiwan? If China were OK with the Taiwanese UN referendum, would the US then be OK with it as well? If the answer is yes, when did the redline of China become the redline of the US?

Getting Taiwan into the United Nations is hard. In a way, we have the whole world against us. But I believe in the spirit of Taiwan – the determination, the perseverance and the fortitude of the people of Taiwan. I yearn for the day when Taiwan is admitted to the UN and when a future generation with the same passion for international affairs as I have, will be able to serve in the United Nations, proudly, for Taiwan.

If you are equally passionate about Taiwan’s membership in the UN or other international organizations, I encourage you to send an email to the US Government through or join me and other community members at the rally this Saturday in front of the United Nations in New York.

Iris Ho grew up near Snake Alley in Taipei. She holds a Masters degree in International Affairs from George Washington University and currently works at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs’ Headquarters in Washington, DC. FAPA is a grassroots organization that promotes support for Taiwan on Capitol Hill.

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