Even though the future is unclear, the 10-minute call between the two democratically elected leaders inspired hope of improved relations between the United States and Taiwan, as Trump brazenly disregarded the unwritten restrictions that China has long placed on the island.
Bill Stanton, the director of the Center for Asia Policy in National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, does not support Trump but said he was “very excited” when he heard about the call: “I was struck from the start that it was well-planned, intentional, and some thought had gone into the remarks.”
Others also noticed the planning behind the call and were incensed: Chinese officials, who expend much effort getting the world to ignore Taiwan. Tsai’s call to Trump provoked a sharp reprimand from Beijing warning Tsai not to partake in “a small trick,” an ominous message given China’s vastly superior military power and rocky history with the island nation. That history very much shapes the actions of the present.
ON OCT. 24, 1945, the United Nations was formed in San Francisco with five permanent members of the Security Council: France, the Republic of China (what became Taiwan), the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Today the Security Council looks largely the same with one major difference—the Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) now sits on the council while Taiwan is not allowed in the UN.
Due to China’s weighty pressure, Taiwan is also unable to join the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), and regional trade blocs. Taiwan only has official ties with 21 countries in the world, with the number continuing to dwindle. During the Olympic Games, Taiwanese athletes may only participate under the name “Chinese Taipei” and cannot carry Taiwan’s flag or play its national anthem. This has serious repercussions beyond national pride: In 2003, the WHO denied Taiwan access to information on the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which had infected hundreds of people on the island.
Even with the 21st-highest GDP in the world, a thriving technology sector, and a vibrant democracy, Taiwan can’t escape the noose Beijing placed around its neck and take part in the international community. That means Taiwan has less representation in the United Nations than Tuvalu, a 10-square-mile island north of Fiji with a meager population of 10,640.
The online publication Quartz expressed Taiwan’s dilemma perfectly in a December headline following the call: “The unbearable sadness of being Taiwan, a liberal island other democracies refuse to talk to.”