Why March For A Decades Long Cause?
This past weekend I participated in a march for Taiwan's membership to the UN. For as long as I can remember, Taiwan has not been represented in the United Nations. That's right, this island nation of 23 million people, which has made a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy, and which is now poised to be the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, is not a member of the UN, and has not been allowed to join the United Nations for decades.
The United Nations Membership for Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free March began across the street from the Chinese Consulate on the westside of Manhattan where several politicians, activists and activist allies spoke.
After a series of rousing speeches, marchers took to the streets, walking east across the island of Manhattan along 42nd Street through Times Square, past the New York Public Library and Grand Central to our final destination, the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza which is north of United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.
At the end of it all someone asked me if I thought demonstrations like this really make any difference.
It's a good question. I thought about it a moment before answering. Taiwan's archenemy in all this is China, and with such a formidable opponent, the situation might seem hopeless. After a decades long fight for Taiwan's UN membership, could we really expect China or the UN to suddenly have a change of heart? Perhaps not, but it doesn't mean we should give up on what we believe in.
My response to the question is that while the march might not actually do anything immediately to change Taiwan's situation, there was definitely some value in it.
First, it created more awareness of Taiwan's situation, and second, it was a form of outreach. In my opinion if we succeeded in informing some people and/or creating greater awareness of Taiwan's situation, it was worth it. When thinking about the impact of public demonstrations like the United Nations Membership for Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free March, you have to take a long term view and see the bigger picture.
Quite a few bystanders had looked on as we marched through Manhattan. Some perhaps had no idea that Taiwan was not a member of the UN until they saw our UN for Taiwan flags, others cheered us on in support. I heard a woman telling her friend "Taiwan is not China." I also saw lots of outreach happening. Quite a few marchers stopped along the way to talk to especially curious bystanders and to explain what we were doing and why we were doing it.
I also personally think events like this are very therapeutic for the people who have been working on this issue for decades. It allowed people to express themselves and to voice their opinions. There's something very empowering about being able to take action by openly and publicly advocating for a cause.
Read on if you'd like to know more about the story behind Taiwan's long fight to join the UN.
The UN has rejected Taiwan's bids for membership year after year. The reasons are complicated. The first time that Taiwan applied for UN membership under the name "Taiwan" instead of "Republic of China" was in ten years ago in 2007, and the bid was rejected. Previous bids had been submitted under the name "Republic of China."
Now, you may be wondering, what is the Republic of China and what does that have to do with Taiwan? Here's my brief explanation: When the Chinese Nationalists lost control of China to the Chinese Communists, they fled to Taiwan in 1945. With them, the Chinese nationalists brought the Republic of China, governing framework which they "transplanted" on Taiwan.
Since then Taiwan has been officially known as the Republic of China. When the UN and the UN Security Council were formed in 1945, the Republic of China was a charter member of both organizations. However, in 1971 the United Nations decided there could only be one representative of China, so they switched recognition from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China. Consequently, the Republic of China lost its representation in the UN and UN Security Council.
In the past Taiwan made more than a dozen bids to join the UN as the Republic of China. It's not surprising that those bids were rejected since the UN supports a one-China policy.
But when Taiwan applied under the name "Taiwan" the issue was whether Taiwan is part of China . The People's Republic of China of course claims that Taiwan is a part of its territory. And Beijing has threatened to attack Taiwan if it declares independence. Furthermore, Taiwan's application for UN membership could be construed as a move toward independence.
So, as you can see, UN membership for Taiwan is quite a quagmire. But we will persist and continue to work for international recognition for Taiwan. The people of Taiwan have already overcome so many odds.