October 19: Taiwan’s International Space and the UN System

October 19: Taiwan’s International Space and the UN System

Tuesday, October 19, 2021 from 12:00PM-1:30PM (ET)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual seminar on “Taiwan’s International Space and the UN System.” On October 25, 1971, the UN General Assembly voted to pass Resolution 2758 assigning the seat of China to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Over the ensuing decades, Taiwan has been restricted from membership and being able to meaningfully participate in a wide range of international organizations and activities. Now, on the 50th anniversary of that vote, the island, which has evolved into a full fledged democracy, finds itself in a precarious position as Beijing ramps up its pressure campaign against Taiwan’s international space. Despite Taiwan’s skillful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and clear commitment to international cooperation it remains excluded from the UN system, an arrangement which is detrimental to both Taiwan and the world at large. With the UN and many other international institutions increasingly influenced and undermined by authoritarian regimes like the PRC, Taiwan’s democratic values and technical expertise are sorely needed. How can Taiwan and its partners work to expand Taipei’s international space? Can the UN system be a productive means of securing Taiwan’s legitimate interests?

This seminar will begin with opening remarks from Ambassador Robert O’Brien, the 28th National Security Advisor of the United States. This will be followed by a panel discussion with Alexander Gray (GTI/AFPC), John Tkacik (IASC/GTI), and Ambassador Kelley Currie (CNAS).
The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Tuesday, October 19 at 12 PM (ET). Questions for the author may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 

Opening Remarks:

Ambassador Robert O’Brien
served as the 28th United States National Security Advisor from 2019 to 2021. He is currently the chairman of GTI’s US-Taiwan Task Force. Previously, he served as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, with the personal rank of Ambassador, from 2018 to 2019. Ambassador O’Brien’s previous government posts include service as US Alternate Representative to the United Nations General Assembly; Co-Chairman of the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan; and as a Member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. A practicing attorney in Los Angeles for over three decades, Ambassador O’Brien holds degrees from the University of California-Berkeley School of Law and the University of California-Los Angeles. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, with the rank of Major.

The Panelists:

Ambassador Kelley Currie
 served as US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and the US Representative at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Prior to her appointment, she led the Department of State’s Office of Global Criminal Justice (2019) and served under Ambassador Nikki Haley as the United States’ Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council and Alternative Representative to the UN General Assembly (2017-2018). Throughout her career in foreign policy, Ambassador Currie has specialized in human rights, political reform, development and humanitarian issues, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. From 2009 until her appointment to the USUN leadership, she served as a Senior Fellow with the Project 2049 Institute. She has held senior policy positions with the Department of State, the U.S. Congress, and several international and non-governmental human rights and humanitarian organizations. Ambassador Currie received a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center, and an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Alexander Gray is a senior non-resident fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute and a managing partner at American Global Strategies LLC. Previously, he served as deputy assistant to the President and chief of staff of the White House National Security Council (NSC) from 2019 to 2021, where he managed the National Security Advisor’s Front Office and was responsible for all personnel, budget and security functions of the NSC. Gray was the first-ever director for Oceania and Indo-Pacific Security at the NSC, responsible for US relations with Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. He represented the US at numerous international conferences, including the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, and intelligence and diplomatic exchanges with Australia and New Zealand. Previously, Gray served as the special assistant to the President for the Defense Industrial Base at the White House National Economic Council (NEC). As the principal official in the Executive Office of the President responsible for the defense industrial base and supply chain resiliency, Gray authored Executive Order 13806, the first-ever whole-of-government assessment of the defense industrial base, and led the interagency team supervising its implementation. In addition to his Executive Branch service, Gray served as a member of the 2016 Presidential Transition Team at the US Department of State and as Senior Advisor to former US Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), primarily supporting his Chairmanship of the Seapower & Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and the Congressional China Caucus. A term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Gray is a member of the Board of Visitors of the US Coast Guard Academy for a three-year term. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The National Interest, Newsweek, The Hill, The Diplomat, The Oklahoman, National Review Online, The Weekly Standard, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Real Clear Defense, Naval War College Review, and the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute. Gray is a graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University (B.A. international affairs) and is a recipient of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the National Security Council’s Outstanding Service Award.

John Tkacik is a member of the Global Taiwan Institute’s advisory board. Previously, he served 24 years in the US State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, with almost 20 years of that working in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and on China/Taiwan affairs in the State Department. During his 1989-94 service as the Deputy US Consul General in Guangzhou (Canton), and later as Chief of China Analysis at the US State Department Office of Intelligence and Research (INR), he received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award and the Intelligence Community’s Exceptional Collector Award. At INR, Tkacik supervised all State Department analysis, coordination and dissemination of China economic, commercial, military, political and strategic intelligence. From 2001-9, Tkacik was Research Fellow for China, Taiwan and Mongolia Policy at The Heritage Foundation. From 1994-present he has served as president of China Business Intelligence, an Alexandria, Virginia, research firm providing intelligence support to US companies doing business with China, publishers of a weekly business bulletin for Taiwan. He has also served as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco International vice president for external affairs in the Asia Pacific.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao
is the executive director of GTI, senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007- to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Hsiao received his J.D. and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a B.A. in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event summary:

On October 19, 2021, GTI hosted a virtual seminar entitled “Taiwan’s International Space and the UN System” as part of its 2021 Public Seminar Series. The seminar’s opening remarks were delivered by Ambassador and former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. The seminar’s panelists were Ambassador Kelly Currie, GTI Senior Non-Resident Fellow Alexander Gray, and GTI Advisory Board member John Tkacik. The seminar was moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

Ambassador O’Brien opened the seminar with remarks on recent growing efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to pressure Taiwan into subordination, before calling Taiwan’s historic transition to democracy “one of the great events of my lifetime.” He then spoke on the consequences of UN Resolution 2758, which he asserted relates solely to the occupation of the China seat at the UN, and contains no language affirming Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. Ambassador O’Brien also recalled the indispensability of Taiwan’s assistance during the early days the COVID-19 pandemic, and spoke about Taiwan’s positive international contributions as well as the costs of its lack of participation in UN bodies. Ambassador O’Brien then concluded his opening remarks with hopes that the Biden Administration will continue its positive steps towards promoting Taiwan in the international space.

The panel’s first speaker, John Tkacik, drew on his experience in the State Department to offer a summary of Taiwan’s historical participation in the UN and the role the United States played in this history. Tkacik emphasized that the US position is and has always been that Taiwan’s political status is unresolved. He then gave examples of claims within the UN, including those by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, that support the PRC’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan, before explaining how the United States protested these claims on the basis that they constituted an overly broad interpretation of Res. 2758. Tkacik then examined US positioning towards Taiwan in other international organizations, noting how President Biden has reiterated the Trump Administration’s “three pillars,” while also lamenting the American role in Taiwan’s removal from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the downgrading of its status in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Tkacik finished by reaffirming that the United States does not accept Taiwan as being under the authority of the PRC.

Ambassador Kelly Currie then began her own presentation, expressing concern with how Res. 2758 and its misinterpretation has become a self-perpetuating process in the UN, especially within the UN Office of Legal Affairs. She explained that although Res. 2758 is not a law, it is often interpreted in a similarly restrictive way. Currie then spoke about how the PRC has gradually used its various positions of power within the UN to push an expansive view of Res. 2758, before acknowledging how restrictive US policy and rules governing interactions with Taiwan also played a role in allowing this development. Currie then expressed optimism about the United States relaxing of these rules, before calling on the US leadership to continue to push back on coercive behavior by the PRC within the UN system, as well as to support Taiwan in the UN and other international spaces. Currie concluded her presentation by suggesting that Taiwan’s status be resolved in the UN’s Fourth Committee—which deals with issues of decolonization—given that Taiwan’s status since being a Japanese colony has remained unresolved.

The panel’s final speaker, Alexander Gray, centered his comments around what he saw as the main problem regarding Taiwan, the PRC, and the UN. According to Gray, the post-World War Two liberal international order, held together by systems like the UN, promotes universal values. However, the PRC has managed to gain influence over the UN through both personnel appointments and active coercion. Gray explained how the PRC has gradually managed to move its nationals into senior positions in a wide array of UN bodies, and that the consequences of this have become clear—as, for example, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) refused to share flight data with Taiwan during the pandemic. Gray then stated that these moves to gain influence within the UN limit Taiwan and put pressure on Taiwan’s diplomatic allies. Gray then proposed that the United States counter the PRC by taking advantage of the UN’s national quota system, by continuing to exert pressure in support of Taiwan, and by calling out agencies under PRC influence. Gray then concluded by reaffirming that the exclusion of Taiwan hurts the image of the United Nations as a values-based institution.

This summary was written by GTI Fall 2021 intern Henry Walsh.

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