(CNSNews.com) – Only holders of IDs issued by member-states of the United Nations may enter the U.N. headquarters in New York City, a spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday when asked why Taiwanese citizens were unable to do so.
That comment during a daily press briefing took some members of the press corps by surprise, and spokesman Stephane Dujarric was pressed on the basis for that decision.
Asked at one point if China was “running the U.N.,” he replied, “I think this is one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve heard today.”
The exchanges came two days before Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is due to be in NYC on a “transit” visit, en route to two of the island democracy’s dwindling number of allies in Central America.
China claims Taiwan as its own, and works constantly to deny it any vestige of legitimacy in the international community, insisting that foreign governments and multilateral organizations comply with its “own China” policy.
Irish journalist Yvonne Murray introduced the topic by saying that Guterres “is clearly seen as a champion of democratic values.”
“Given that the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, is in the U.S. this week, will come to New York later in the week, and is the leader of what’s considered Asia’s leading democracy, does the secretary-general have any message for her?” she asked.
“The secretary-general’s position on China is guided by the relevant General Assembly resolution on the ‘One China’ policy,” Dujarric responded.
“Sorry. I’m not asking about China,” Murray said. “I’m asking about Taiwan —”
“No, no, I understand,” said Dujarric, “and that’s the answer, that’s the answer to your question.”
Murray then asked if Guterres had anything to say about the fact that Taiwanese passport holders are not allowed entry into U.N. headquarters, to take a tour.
“The policy of the U.N. is that the premises of U.N. headquarters are open to people with identifications of member-states of this – of the U.N.” Dujarric said.
Al Jazeera reporter James Bays asked Dujarric when the situation had changed for Taiwanese citizens and whether the policy was based on a General Assembly resolution, or a decision by the secretary-general.
The spokesman said he did not know when the situation changed, and would look into the question of what authority the policy was based on.
“It seems to me all of these people are citizens of the world,” Bays said. “And wouldn’t have thought that the secretary-general is someone who wants to – to – to practice discrimination.”
Dujarric said he believed the policy had been in place “for quite some number of years” but would check. Queries sent to him later on Monday brought no response by press time.
Thousands of people from around the world visit the U.N. complex each month, often taking guided tours with multilingual tour guides.
According to the visitor’s center, they are “required to present a valid government-issued photo identification issued by a Member State or a Non-Member Observer State of the United Nations to enter U.N. Headquarters.”
Passports, driver’s licenses, national identity cards or NYC ID cards are accepted.
“Non-Member Observer States” are the State of Palestine – a non-sovereign entity – and the Holy See. Holders of Vatican or Palestinian Authority-issued documents may therefore visit, but not citizens of Taiwan or one of the other small handful of independent countries that are not members of the U.N., such as Kosovo and Western Sahara.
Later in Monday’s briefing, French correspondent Celhia De Lavarene recalled that when the press corps several years ago tried to arrange to have Taiwanese journalists in the building, “we could not, because China said no.”
Asked what her question was, De Lavarene said, “I want to know, is China running – running the U.N.?”
“I think this is one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve heard today,” Dujarric said, and ended his part of the briefing.
‘A reliable, likeminded, and democratic partner’
Tsai’s travels will take her to Guatemala and Belize, two of just 13 countries that have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China refuses to have diplomatic ties with any country that fully recognizes Taiwanese sovereignty and independence.
Honduras this week became the latest country to sever relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing, treading a path taken by Panama in 2017, El Salvador in 2018, and Nicaragua in 2021.
In addition to Guatemala and Belize, Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies are Paraguay, Haiti, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu, Eswatini, and the Holy See.
Asked on Monday about Honduras’ move, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said those were countries’ “sovereign decisions.”
Pressed, he added, “We believe that Taiwan is a reliable, likeminded, and democratic partner, and its partnerships around the world provide significant and sustainable benefits to citizens of those countries.”
For its part, the U.S. would continue to deepen engagement with Taiwan, in line with the U.S. “one China” policy, Patel said.
The U.S. policy differs from China’s; since President Carter in 1979 cut ties with Taipei and recognized Beijing, the U.S. has acknowledged China’s position on “one China,” but without explicitly recognizing Beijing’s claims to Taiwan, while seeking a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
The U.S. is also committed under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.
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