UN Restoration drama
Mary Z. Brittain describes the scene at the United Nations when the People's Republic of China was first
given a seat in 1971. This took place only after the United States dropped its support for the
Nationalist party claim of Taiwan (Republic of China) to represent China . This strange anomaly
had continued for 22 years since the P.R.C. was founded in 1949.
You'll note the prominence of Tanzania, this country was China's main ally in Africa. This article first appeared in SACU's China Now magazine in 1972.
On November 15, 1971, when the Chinese delegates took their seats at last in the UN General Assembly Hall, I stood in line with the rest of the interested general public waiting anxiously and eagerly for my 'first come, first served' free ticket to the topmost gallery. Would there be enough tickets to go round? And when was the Chairman of the delegation, Qiao Guanhua, going to speak? The president of the Assembly, Adam Malik of Indonesia, had struck his gavel at 10.40 on that Monday morning in Manhattan, and since then the welcoming speeches had been rolling out from the rostrum, more like an oriental rug than a red carpet in all their diversity. While we stood patiently for over two hours, groups of school children and parties of out-of-town tourists surged about in the visitors' lobby, staring at Neptune rescued from an ancient Greek shipwreck, and pieces of moon rock in a glass case.
It was 12.45 when a fresh batch of green tickets were handed out; we rushed to the elevator, were taken to the fourth floor, and ushered to seats in time to hear the tail end of Malaysia's warm welcome to the People's Republic of China on behalf of Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and his own country. He was followed by Padma Bahadur Khatri of Nepal who said he could not remember an occasion for so much rejoicing. The new arrival had brought new vigour and hope to the Organisation.
After a long period of atrophy, the United Nations now found itself in a position to carry out effective work. Then Kurt Waldheim of Austria came to the rostrum to say his delegation believed confidently that the participation of the People's Republic of China would strengthen the work of the Organisation. And then abruptly at 1.07 pm the gavel came down, the Assembly went off for lunch, and we returned to the marble vastness of the visitors' lobby, to the circular information desk, to the column already forming for the 3.00 session.
'The curtain had gone up on this restoration drama, unexpectedly and joyfully, three weeks before, late at night on Monday, the 25th of October. When the lights flashed on the tabulator and roll call ended, and the machine ground out the totals, (76 in favour, 35 against, 17 abstentions) dignified delegates threw protocol to the wind, and childlike, showed their spontaneous delight. In the next few days joyless voices expressed prim disapproval. There were lectures in international etiquette and Senator Goldwater said the United States should leave the United Nations, and the United Nations should be made to leave New York.
A Soviet diplomat was reported to have said: 'We have suffered a great victory'. On the morning of November 15th, Zambia and Tanzania answered the critics: no one has the right to tell us when to rejoice or not to rejoice, said Zambia. There were no victors nor vanquished; it was a victory of realism. Tanzania in turn said it was a victory for the United Nations, for the people of the world, for common sense, for reality over fantasy, and right over wrong. The seat now filled by China's delegates had been 'illegally and inadequately' occupied.
In his conversation with Neville Maxwell, reported in The Sunday Times, 5th December 1971, Premier Zhou Enlai analysed the votes on both resolutions in great detail, and explained his government's reaction to them:
At first we did not intend to go to the United Nations immediately. But when we heard that there were 76 votes supporting us there we could not but go, otherwise most of the countries supporting China would be disappointed.
By the time China's delegates arrived, her flag was flying between Chile's and Colombia's, second on the left at the visitors' entrance to the UN grounds; and UNESCO in Paris had shown that common sense is sometimes contagious when its Executive Board added a new item to its agenda 'Participation of China in the Execution of the Programme'. (Within days of China's arrival at the UN, ILO and FAO had also restored her right to participate in their decisions.)
During the last act of our restoration drama at the General Assembly, 57 states, some representing groups of nations, some representing only themselves, welcomed China back to the United Nations When at last President Adam Malik said, 'I call upon the Chairman of the Chinese delegation', the gallery was no longer crowded but those who were still there adjusted their plastic earphones and listened to the deliberate emphatic words of the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. A reporter wrote of the interpreter, C.C. Fan, that 'he always tried to have his voice reflect the emphasis that the speaker gave to his own words; hence the strong tones Mr. Fan used on Monday evening'. Strong tones, firm principles.
The London Weekly Summary produced by the UN's Information Centre reflects both:
Mr Qiao told the Assembly that the world and the United Nations must not be dominated by one or two super-Powers and his country would never behave like one. It would work in the United Nations for the national independence, equality and sovereignty of each Member State. China was a part of the 'third world'.
And a constantly recurring sentence in this speech and recent documents sums up clearly China's estimate of the 'irresistible trend of history': 'Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution.'
© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2006 : an extract from SACU's magazine China Now 18 January 1972 , Page 1
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
If you have any comments, updates or corrections please let us know via our Contact page.