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A teenager in Tokyo helps Taiwan make its presence felt at UN

She volunteers to play role of Taiwan at a Japan-based Model United Nations conference

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Model U.N. is a popular activity for students interested in learning more about how the real U.N. operates. (UN photo)

Model U.N. is a popular activity for students interested in learning more about how the real U.N. operates. (UN photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In order to learn about the United Nations, over 500,000 students each year participate in Model United Nations (MUN), an academic simulation of the United Nations.

Taiwan was a member of the U.N. under the name Republic of China (ROC) until 1971, when the General Assembly voted to give the ROC seat to the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC). Since then, the PRC has used its political clout to block Taiwan from reentering the U.N., which has resulted in Taiwan being left out of student simulations.

According to multiple people familiar with Taiwan’s MUN community, conference organizers in Taiwan do not give representation to their own country, except in pre-1971 historical simulations. This is because, even if Taiwan's current exclusion from the U.N. is unjust, the purpose of MUN is to represent the U.N. as it really is, not as it ought to be.

Adlea, a 15-year-old who attends an international school in Tokyo, has challenged this assumption. A few months ago, she volunteered to play the role of Taiwan at a Japan-based MUN conference whose organizers originally had not considered giving Taiwan representation. Breaking with convention, they decided to let her do it.

"Adlea" explains why she wanted to represent Taiwan and what she learned from the experience. She is an outstanding MUN delegate, having previously earned the “Best Speaker” award at a conference based in Hong Kong.

Introduce yourself

I’m currently studying in Tokyo. I started doing MUN at the beginning of 2021 to further my knowledge of current affairs and international relations, and have since gotten the chance to participate in four conferences, including the most recent one when I represented Taiwan.

Why did you want to represent Taiwan?

One of the U.N.’s fundamental values is inclusivity and the "equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small," to quote the preamble of the U.N. Charter. It made me wonder if any of the U.N.’s other values had any credibility, as not allowing Taiwan to have a U.N. seat was a blatant disregard of the very first principles.

Also, due to Mr. (Vladmir) Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, there was a lot of conversation surrounding China’s next move, specifically pertaining to invading Taiwan. Seeing Russia use its Security Council veto, and also the duress of Ukrainian citizens, made me realize the very real possibility of Taiwan being next.

I live in Japan as well, so I was worried that Chinese aggression would affect me personally, which made me even more keen to do a good job at representing Taiwan.

What things did you learn that surprised you most?

I had no idea that Taiwan was under Japanese rule from the late 19th century until the end of World War II. I also didn’t know that Taiwan did indeed have a U.N. seat, and that it was transferred to China, the PRC, back in 1971. I’d previously assumed that Taiwan never had a seat, so that surprised me the most, funnily enough.

Why did you decide to use the name “Taiwan” instead of the “Republic of China”?

I did it simply to avoid confusion. I feel very strongly that a big reason people internationally can’t make the distinction between Taiwan and China is because the names are so similar. People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China are just one word different.

What was the hardest part about representing Taiwan?

I was really apprehensive about the possible repercussions of representing Taiwan due to precedents like Harvard MUN 2015, in which Chinese delegates threw, for lack of a better word, a tantrum because Taiwan was listed as a "country" and not a "region."

Throughout the conference, I vividly remember fact-checking everything I was saying. I had a minimum of 10 tabs open during the weekend because I didn’t want to make a mistake. Being so worried that I'd misspeak was an experience I'd never had when representing other countries.

How was representing Taiwan different from representing other countries?

Before Taiwan, I represented France, Finland, and South Korea. Researching for those countries was a lot easier, mainly because they all held U.N. seats.

This made it possible to look up resolutions pertaining to the specific committees as well as past collaborative measures the countries took within the U.N. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to do this with Taiwan, the research process took a much longer time, and I had to look at many external sources that weren’t from the U.N.

How did other students react to the presence of Taiwan?

I was worried that there would be more of a backlash, and that I would have to use my research to defend Taiwan’s inclusion at the conference. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to do anything of that nature.

I think their response, or lack thereof, was related to the fact that the committee I was on had no Chinese students, and the delegate who was supposed to represent China didn’t show up.

The level of diplomacy I was shown really surprised me. Even though I was representing Taiwan, the other delegates let me lead the committee during one of the sessions and submit a position paper as if it were completely normal. Overall, the delegates were very professional and treated me like they treated the other delegations.

You represented Taiwan in the Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC), and the topic was "Extremism and the Use of Unconventional Weapons." Do you think the debate on this topic was enhanced by the inclusion of Taiwan?

The conference happened after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so the debates naturally focused on how to deal with situations where veto power comes into play. I believe that a country like Taiwan, which has been disadvantaged by China’s possession of the veto, offered a unique perspective on the topic.

Delegations representing each of the permanent Security Council members fought very hard not to overrule the veto, while countries like Ukraine openly discussed abolishing it.

Did representing Taiwan in the Model UN change your views about the real UN?

I realized that it’s not as efficient as it’s made out to be. In reality, the U.N. can only do so much when it comes to events that involve the five permanent members of the Security Council.

One veto, similar to Putin’s veto back in February, can nullify an entire resolution to end a war. It’s a shame, but the United Nations failed in its mission to protect global citizens when it put the permanent members in front of the world’s best interests.

How have your views about Taiwan changed after representing Taiwan?

Prior to the conference, I felt a lot of pity for Taiwan, and participating in the conference enhanced that feeling. I’m half Pakistani and Bangladeshi myself.

Pakistan gained independence from the British back in 1947, and Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan back in 1971, but neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh has ever had to fight as hard as Taiwan to have its statehood recognized.

I also lived in Singapore for a while, which gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, and it’s the same case over there. Neither the U.K., nor Pakistan, nor Malaysia share China’s obsession for "reunification."

In fact, none of the respective countries have ever been stopped from exercising their independence by the government it was previously under. In Taiwan’s case, it is facing a threat from a government which it has never been under.

After learning more about Taiwan, I feel very strongly that it needs more accurate and more extensive international media coverage. Not many people are educated about Taiwan’s complicated history. Raising awareness of Taiwan in MUN conferences can be a good first step towards addressing these problems.

Some people argue that Taiwan should not be included as a delegate in Model UN because it is not realistic. What would you say to them?

While I sympathize with the notion of being as realistic as possible, students who participate in MUN do it so they can improve their public speaking skills, their diplomacy, and their knowledge of current affairs, and introducing Taiwan doesn’t detract from gaining these skills.

Many conferences introduce fictional situations for delegates to deal with. Even in this conference, we participated in a crisis event in which North Korea bombed California with a virus-infested nuke.

It was an absurd event, but the delegates got to work together, debate the best solution, and do all of it within a time limit as well. It wasn’t “realistic,” but I guarantee that every single delegate got something out of it.

Having Taiwan as part of conferences may also be the only opportunity for students to learn about Taiwan in depth from a Taiwanese perspective. Otherwise, they may only learn about Taiwan from China's perspective.

Model UN imitates the UN, but do you think it can change the UN?

Yes, because some of the students who participate in MUN conferences now will be the same diplomats who work at the U.N. in the near future. They will likely take the skills and perspectives they’ve obtained from MUN conferences and apply them to their jobs.

If more conference organizers give Taiwan representation, I think it will increase the number of future leaders who are knowledgeable about Taiwan and willing to support the restoration of its U.N. membership.

Is there anything you want readers to know?

The name "Adlea" isn’t one that I was given at birth, and is instead a pseudonym I chose for this article. It means "justice and fairness," two principles that align with why I wanted to represent Taiwan at Model UN.

I was originally going to use my real name for this article, and I had also participated in a video interview to be published alongside it. However, one month ago, when the article and video were ready to be published, my mother insisted that my school’s name be included alongside my own.

Unfortunately, school management requested that I keep the school's name out of the article. Due to this, my mother requested that I also take on anonymity, which meant that the video could not be published.

Finally, since the time that this article was originally written, Abe Shinzo, Japan’s former prime minister, was tragically assassinated. His consistent, unwavering support of Taiwan had a great impact on me, and I hope that others, including myself, can do whatever possible to continue his legacy.

Lindell Lucy is an American based in Tokyo. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from Stanford University and is studying international relations at the Harvard Extension School.