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Taiwanese banned from all UNESCO events

New UNESCO rule prevents Taiwanese scientist from attending International Centre for Theoretical Physics

Letter from ICTP. (Twitter, Yeh Chih-Fu screenshot)

Letter from ICTP. (Twitter, Yeh Chih-Fu screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A new UN rule now bans Taiwanese scientists from attending all UNESCO events, according to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), prompting many scholars, both Taiwanese and Western, to criticize the policy as discriminatory.

After applying to attend a virtual conference on quantitative biology late last month, Yeh Chih-Fu (葉治甫), a Taiwanese PhD student at Stanford University researching community ecology and biodiversity, on Dec. 1 on Twitter posted a rejection letter from ICTP stating "UN rules" dictate that Taiwanese nationals cannot attend, despite the fact that the institute considers him a "scientifically worthwhile participant."

Out of frustration, the next day Yeh posted a tweet in which he included an advertisement for the event. He sarcastically wrote that a line should be added after "Female scientists are encouraged to apply" that states "Taiwanese scientists will not be accepted."

National Taiwan University professor of sociology John Liu (劉仲恩) responded on Twitter that the rule had apparently been implemented in 2019. He then quipped: "You'd think it must be for some really political event, ahem, no, it's for a winter school for quantitative systems biology."

On Dec. 3, Alexander Sullivan, an international relations Ph.D. student at Georgetown University, retweeted Liu's post and observed how powerful China has become in the UN under the Trump administration. He then condemned UNESCO for constricting Taiwan's government and restricting participation by Taiwanese scientists in line with Beijing's political agenda.

That same day, Yeh wrote on Twitter that some organizers and lecturers are preparing a protest letter to demand that the exclusionary rule be rescinded. Yeh then quoted a section from ICTP's Welcome page that states, "It is our core belief that science is a shared language that transcends national boundaries and provides a common platform for dialogue," inserting "(but not Taiwan)" after the word "boundaries."

In response to the incident, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday (Dec. 6) instructed its representative office in Italy to negotiate with the ICTP. The ministry stated that local politicians and academics had expressed support for Taiwan and their concern about the ICTP restrictions, and it called for an end to such discrimination and for Taiwanese to be treated fairly.

The ministry pointed out that under Chinese pressure, UN agencies, including UNESCO, have improperly prevented Taiwanese from participating in UN system-related activities for a long time and that this "unreasonable suppression" is now being expanded to academic activities. The ministry vowed to continue to protest against UN discrimination and demand corrections.

Updated : 2022-05-20 10:13 GMT+08:00