In World War II, it was America’s vast war effort in the Pacific, in alliance with Britain, that liberated China from occupation by Imperial Japan. In 1949, Mao Zedong’s communist forces ousted the Chinese Nationalist government of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to Taiwan. On Oct. 1, 1949, from the gate to China’s old Imperial Forbidden City, overlooking Tiananmen Square, Mao declared the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China.

Until the 1970s, the U.S. and the United Nations continued to recognize Chiang’s Nationalists on Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. In 1971 came the beginning of President Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with Beijing, in the course of which the United Nations voted to turn over to Beijing’s communist government the China membership and permanent seat on the Security Council, held until then by the Chinese government on Taiwan. The grim result was to ensconce to this day, as a major influence within the UN, one of the world’s most repressive and tenacious dictatorships.

For eight years after Beijing took China’s seat at the UN, the U.S. continued to recognize the Chinese government on Taiwan. This allowed for useful ambiguities, in which the U.S. was able to deal in practical terms with Communist China, while giving diplomatic pride of place to America’s natural ally, the Chinese government on Taiwan. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter changed that, normalizing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and relocating the U.S. embassy to Beijing. This placed Taiwan in great jeopardy, which Congress mitigated with the Taiwan Relations Act, committing the U.S. to the security of Taiwan, and laying out that the U.S. recognition of Communist China “rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.”

Taiwan, a true friend to the U.S., has evolved into a thriving Chinese democracy, and a model for the course that many hoped mainland China would take. Beijing continues to threaten Taiwan, and at Beijing’s behest, Taiwan remains blocked from almost all access to the UN. Quite recently, this arrangement played out to terrible effect at the UN’s World Health Organization. Under the fawning pro-Beijing leadership of Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO ignored Taiwan’s urgent concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, and instead amplified Beijing’s reassuring lies, while the disease spread abroad.

Read this new IWF policy focus, “Facing Down the Threat of China,” to learn more about our relationship with China in light of the COVID pandemic and other present-day challenges.