UN aviation agency snubs Taiwan, recognising Beijing’s 'one China'

Taiwan's Foreign Minister David Lee during a press conference in Taipei on Sept 23, 2016 to protest Taiwan's exclusion from the 2016 International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Taiwan's Foreign Minister David Lee during a press conference in Taipei on Sept 23, 2016 to protest Taiwan's exclusion from the 2016 International Civil Aviation Organisation.PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP, REUTERS) - A UN aviation agency has snubbed Taiwan by not inviting it to its assembly in Canada, the latest sign of pressure China is bringing to bear on the new independence-leaning government of an island it views as a renegade province.  

Diplomatically isolated Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, which recognises “one China” centred on Beijing. China, in turn, sees self-ruled Taiwan as fit to be taken back by force if necessary, particularly if it makes moves toward independence.

Since May, when President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally favours independence from the mainland, took power in Taiwan, China has suspended official communication channels.  

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said arrangements for the assembly, scheduled for Sept 27 to Oct 7 in Montreal, did not follow the pattern ahead of a meeting in 2013, when China had asked for Taiwan to be invited in a major breakthrough.

That invite came under previous Beijing-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou.

“ICAO follows the United Nations’ ’One China’ policy,” the agency’s communications chief, Anthony Philbin, told Reuters in an email. “While arrangements had been made for their attendance at the last (38th) session of the assembly, there are no such arrangements for this one.” 

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said it had approached China about the issue in early August with a“pragmatic and positive” attitude, but was “flatly rejected”.

“We solemnly call on China to open its heart and think seriously as it may face serious consequences for its one-sided actions,” it said in a statement.  

Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lee told reporters diplomacy had never been an easy task for Taiwan, formally known as the“Republic of China”. “In the foreseeable future, I am not expecting this to change substantially,” he said.

Taiwan was a founding member of the ICAO but was thrown out in 1971 when it lost its UN seat to China.

The agency appointed China's Fang Liu as secretary-general last year.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Friday that as an“inseparable part of China” Taiwan had no right to participate in the ICAO assembly, and that Taipei’s attendance in the past was based on “temporary arrangements”.

“At present, our position is extremely clear. The prerequisite for Taiwan to participate in any international activity is for it to agree to the ‘One China’ policy and for this to be resolved through consultation,” Lu told a regular press briefing.  

In another diplomatic snub in July, Taiwanese officials were barred from a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting, allegedly due to pressure from China.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communist forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang fled to the island.

The island is one of Asia's busiest aviation hubs, ranking 11th in the world in terms of passenger traffic and sixth for cargo in 2015, according to government figures.