People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After years of controversy, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 2758, withdrawing the United Nations’ recognition of the delegation of Taiwan as the legitimate representative of the people of China in favor of the delegation of the Communist government of the People’s Republic of China.

Summary of Event

When the United Nations was founded in 1945, the Republic of China, then under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek, was one of the original signatories to the U.N. Charter and was also a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. After the fall of mainland China to Communist rule and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan with several hundred troops and declared Taipei to be the temporary capital of China. From that moment on, extreme tension existed between the two governments—the Communists of the mainland and the Kuomintang on Taiwan—as each asserted its claim to be the legal government of China. China;U.N. membership United Nations;China membership Resolution 2758, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2758, U.N. [kw]People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations (Oct. 25, 1971) [kw]China Is Seated at the United Nations, People’s Republic of (Oct. 25, 1971) [kw]United Nations, People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the (Oct. 25, 1971) China;U.N. membership United Nations;China membership Resolution 2758, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2758, U.N. [g]North America;Oct. 25, 1971: People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations[00450] [g]United States;Oct. 25, 1971: People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations[00450] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 25, 1971: People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations[00450] [c]United Nations;Oct. 25, 1971: People’s Republic of China Is Seated at the United Nations[00450] Zhou Enlai Chiang Kai-shek Mao Zedong Ayub Khan, Mohammad Kissinger, Henry [p]Kissinger, Henry;U.S.-China relations[U.S. China relations] Nixon, Richard M. [p]Nixon, Richard M.;U.S.-China relations[U.S. China relations]

International opinion was also divided, especially because of the Cold War Cold War;China alignments that had already taken shape. The United States and its allies refused to recognize the Communist People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China and supported the right of the Republic of China to represent all Chinese citizens. The interests of the United States were served by the denial of a place in the world body to another Communist nation, especially a seat as a permanent member of the Security Council, with its concomitant power of veto.

The problem was hotly debated during the period 1949-1950, with the Soviet Union, then an ally of the People’s Republic, demanding that the People’s Republic be admitted as a member of the United Nations. To strengthen its demands, the Soviet Union boycotted the United Nations from January to August, 1950. During that time, Chairman Mao Zedong decided to send Chinese troops of the People’s Liberation Army into the Korean peninsula against American and South Korean troops. Taking advantage of the Soviet absence from the United Nations, the members of the Security Council, at the urging of the United States, immediately condemned the Communist Chinese action and voted to deploy U.N. troops to halt the Chinese aggression. Again led by the United States, the majority of U.N. member states rejected Communist Chinese demands to be accepted for membership in the United Nations, especially in the light of the People’s Republic’s unwarranted aggression against American and U.N. troops in Korea.

Henry Kissinger (left) meets Zhou Enlai in July, 1971.

(NARA/Nixon Project)

The United States led the opposition to recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, and it was largely successful in isolating the Chinese Communists from the international community. With the entrance into the United Nations of more newly independent Third World member states during the 1960’s, however, the United States found it increasingly difficult to gather the necessary votes to keep the Communist Chinese from gaining the Chinese seat. Albania, in particular, was instrumental in presenting an annual resolution urging that the Chinese seat be taken from the Republic of China and given to the People’s Republic of China. Nonetheless, American influence still managed to block any change that would favor the Communist government.

By 1970, fifty-three U.N. member countries had individually recognized the claims of the People’s Republic of China, whereas sixty-eight continued to support the Republic of China. Key American allies such as France, Canada, and Italy were among those that had accepted the Communist government, and this put additional pressure on the United States to seek an acceptable accommodation.

Throughout the 1960’s, President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan, who enjoyed good relations with both the United States and the People’s Republic of China, worked quietly behind the scenes to forge a diplomatic union between the two great nations. By 1970, he was attempting to broker a deal whereby the United States would recognize the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China and would normalize relations with the Communist giant. The plan was favorable to both nations in that this new relationship would offset the power of the Soviet Union, which both the United States and China saw as the greatest threat to their national security. It would also be understood that the United States would gradually downplay its support for the Republic of China. Largely through Ayub Khan’s diplomatic skill, secret meetings were arranged in 1971 between the American secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, and Premier Zhou Enlai of China. During these meetings, preparations were made for Chairman Mao and President Richard M. Nixon to attend a summit to be held in Beijing in February, 1972.

On November 20, 1970, at the Twenty-fifth General Assembly of the United Nations, Resolution 2642 General Assembly Resolution 2642, U.N. Resolution 2642, U.N. was passed by a vote of 66-52-7, upholding a previous resolution favoring the expulsion of the representatives of the Republic of China from the world body and from all its ancillary organizations and their replacement with representatives from the People’s Republic of China. The delegation of the People’s Republic of China was formally seated on October 25, 1971, when the Twenty-sixth General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 by a vote of 76-35-17, formally expelling the representatives of the Republic of China and declaring the representatives of the People’s Republic to be the only lawful representatives of China, including Taiwan.

Significance

The adoption of Resolution 2642 of the Twenty-fifth U.N. General Assembly marked the almost certain decline of the Republic of China as a sovereign state and heralded the arrival of the People’s Republic of China on the world stage. With the adoption of Resolution 2758 of the Twenty-sixth General Assembly, the Republic of China was formally expelled from the world body and the People’s Republic was extended credentials and recognized to be the only legal government of China. Almost thirty years after the proclamation of the People’s Republic, Communist rule in China was finally legitimated by the nations of the world. No longer a pariah, the People’s Republic now enjoyed the status of a great world power, not only because of its ancient civilization, its enormous population, and its vast territorial expanse but also because of its newly gained position in the international order.

With its admission to the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China gained control of one of the most influential and powerful weapons in the world—the ability to veto proposals sent to the U.N. Security Council. The People’s Republic was no longer to be seen by the world community as a backwater that was unworthy of respect and consultation. On the contrary, “New China,” as the People’s Republic often likes to refer to itself, would now be a respected and critical force in the establishment of a new world order. The People’s Republic would at last take its place among those nations governed by the rule of law, both international and domestic. China;U.N. membership United Nations;China membership Resolution 2758, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2758, U.N.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chiu, Hungdah. China and the Question of Taiwan: Documents and Analysis. New York: Praeger, 1973. Invaluable collection of primary documents in English regarding the positions of the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China in and toward the United Nations. Indispensable for any chronological study of the U.N. debates over China.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clubb, O. Edmund. Twentieth Century China. 3d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978. Presents brief but detailed treatment of Beijing’s diplomatic skills in working toward gaining a seat in the United Nations for the People’s Republic. Clearly written and concise.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fairbank, John K. China: A New History. 2d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2005. Provides a brief explanation of events leading to the United Nations’ acceptance of the People’s Republic of China as a member state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hutchings, Graham. Modern China: A Guide to a Century of Change. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Carefully prepared encyclopedia features concise, readable entries on significant people, places, and events in contemporary Chinese history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacFarquhar, Roderick, and John K. Fairbank, eds. The People’s Republic, Part 2: Revolutions Within the Chinese Revolution, 1966-1982. Vol. 15 in The Cambridge History of China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Comprehensive scholarly presentation of the events leading up to the acceptance of the Communists of the People’s Republic of China as the legal government of China. Includes maps, tables, bibliography, and glossary-index.

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