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UNCA Challenges the UN in kowtowing to China (June 5, 2003)


Two weeks ago, on May 23rd, United Nations officials barred Andrew Li-Yan Hsia, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center, from attending a press conference on Taiwan’s response to the SARS crisis, scheduled by the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA). Despite his previous approval of the event, and despite a long-standing tradition of non-intervention with UNCA events, Secretary General Kofi Annan bowed to Chinese pressure to keep Taiwanese representatives off UN premises. The UN’s top legal advisor, Hans Corell, had advised Annan that Hsia’s appearance would constitute a violation of the organization’s “one-China policy.” Annan’s spokesman defended the decision, saying, “[Hsia] represented himself as an ambassador, as if from a sovereign state. I believe that triggered a protest by the Chinese mission that the Secretary-General felt was worth responding to.” 

        UNCA President Tony Jenkins expressed his outrage at Annan’s actions, calling them a direct violation of freedom of the press, and especially of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to “hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.” In a letter to China’s UN ambassador, Wang Wingfan, Jenkins noted that China is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and must therefore abide by its principles. He also invited Wang to a UNCA panel on the future of Taiwan and its legal status.

        Along with several other UNCA members, Jenkins organized a rally on May 24th, protesting Hsia’s expulsion from UN property. The incident and its repercussions have garnered press coverage from several media outlets, including the Washington Post and Taipei Times

Recently, Wu Ming-Chi, President of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), wrote a letter to Jenkins expressing his gratitude for the UNCA’s continued support for both freedom of the press and for an open discussion on various issues related to Taiwan. Please see below. 

June 3, 2003

Dear Mr. Jenkins:

I write today to you to express my admiration for your courageous action last week of inviting China's ambassador to the United Nations -Mr. Wang Wingfan- to a panel discussion on the future of Taiwan and its legal status.

I want to convey to you here today that all members of our organization, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a Taiwanese American grassroots organization which promotes freedom, human rights and democracy for the people of Taiwan (, are excited about your initiative.

They are dismayed though about the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's barring of Mr. Andrew Hsia from attending a news conference last week on Taiwan's efforts to gain entry into the World Health Organization, reversing a long-standing policy of not interfering in events sponsored by the United Nations press club.

It goes without saying that the members of our organization do not accept China's unrealistic claim over Taiwan. The reality is that Taiwan today is a de facto independent country. If it were not for the clout China wields over the majority of countries around the world, including the United States, the international community would have accepted that reality.

Based on the provisions of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which formally ended World War II and which is the legal basis for the right of self-determination for the people of Taiwan, China never receive sovereignty over Taiwan. Taiwan today is a multiparty democratic nation. Never since its founding has the People's Republic of China ruled Taiwan. Despite the incessant threat of China, Taiwan today is gradually moving from being a de facto to de jure independent country.

Although we believe that the chance that Mr. Wang will respond to your invitation in a favorable way is minimal, I would like to again take this opportunity to applaud your exciting initiative. I also hereby offer to you the expertise and knowledge of our Washington DC headquarters to assist you in your endeavor in whatever way possible.

If you need additional information, feel free to call Mr. Coen Blaauw at 202-547-3686.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely yours,

Ming-chi Wu, Ph.D.
President FAPA


H.E. Mr. Wang Wingfan

Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary

Permanent Representative of the People's Republic of China

To the United Nations

350 East 35th Street

New York, NY 10016


Dear Mr. Ambassador,

On behalf of the Executive Committee of the United Nations Correspondents Association, I am writing to vigorously protest the role of the Mission of the People's Republic of China in the events that led to the disruption of the press briefing by Andrew Hsia, the Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, who was due to speak to the UNCA in its club last Friday, May 23rd, about the SARS crisis and Taiwan's efforts to work with the World Health Organization. Because of this disruption, we found ourselves obliged to conduct our conference on the sidewalk of First Avenue, removed physically, if not in spirit, from our home inside United Nations Headquarters.

This has disturbed relations between the press and the Secretariat, and it has done serious harm to the image of the PRC within the UN Press Corps.

As you know, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which China is a signatory, states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

In China, I understand, the media are still subject to strict government censorship, but the headquarters of the United Nations is government by a higher code: that enshrined in Article 19 quoted above. The UN stands for transparency in the conduct of the affairs of state and as a watchdog for press freedom. That is why the UN invented World Press Freedom Day, which we recently celebrated here at headquarters.

For these reasons, it is our firm belief that the Secretary General erred in bowing to your request to block our press briefing and we will be taking up the matter directly with him.

I should like to point out that the UN Correspondents Association has frequently organized briefing by speakers whose views are extremely hostile to those of their member governments. To name just a few: We have had members of Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army, at a time when they were still engaged in a violent struggle to expel British authority from Northern Ireland. The British government did not protest. We have had a representative of the Chechens fighting against Russian rule who described himself as the Foreign Minister of the independent Republic of Ichkeria. The Russians did not object. Jose Ramos Horta came to speak to us many times, long before East Timor became independent. The Indonesians did not object. We had Kurdish speakers, and the Turks did not object. I could quote more examples, but my main point is that the more sophisticated missions simply asked for a right to reply which we have always been happy to host.

In our opinion this tradition of using our club for the free expression of views, no matter which government might object, is a long and honorable one and we have no intention of allowing that right to be abridged by the People's Republic of China or any other member state.

Finally, let me say that we are organizing a panel discussion on the future of Taiwan and its legal status, with speakers from all shades of opinion. I wonder if you would be prepared to participate in such a debate? Or if you prefer, we would be happy to organize a separate briefing for you alone to address correspondents on this issue.

Yours Sincerely,

Tony Jenkins

U.S. Bureau Chief, Expresso &

President, UN Correspondents Association

United Nations Room S-360

New York, NY 10017

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