The United Nations will have plenty on its agenda when the 63rd session of its General Assembly opens later this month, but one we hope won't fall through the cracks is a request to discuss what a letter last month from 17 countries called the "need to examine the fundamental rights of the 23 million people of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate meaningfully in the activities of the United Nations specialized agencies." Because Taiwan isn't a member of the United Nations — unlike Iran, Sudan, and North Korea — it can't even make its own case for participation before the world body.
This year, unlike in previous years, Taiwan's appeal stops short of a formal request for full membership in the United Nations, which it has been deprived of since 1971. Instead, it is asking for the very modest chance to participate in the U.N.'s specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the International Maritime Organization.
An explanatory memorandum filed with the United Nations by Taiwan's allies says that while 40 million tourists visit Taiwan annually and 1.7 million tons of air cargo are shipped there, the island's exclusion from the International Civil Aviation Organization "creates a dangerous rift in global aviation security." Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Organization means that the island "can neither acquire the latest medical and health updates nor receive timely assistance when epidemics occur," the memo says. And even though Taiwan has the world's 10th largest shipping capacity, it isn't allowed to participate in the International Maritime Organization.
Those who defend the United Nations when critics ask why outlaw nations such as Iran and North Korea are members, or when critics suggest replacing the United Nations with a community of democracies, insist that the world body's value derives in part from the fact that it is universally inclusive. Taiwan's exclusion undermines that argument, and the upcoming General Assembly is a chance to move toward rectifying the situation.