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As a non-government organization (NGO) accredited through the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is required to use on our website certain United Nations terminology regarding particular entities, including the names of states and geographical regions.

In 2017, the ECOSOC Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations deferred consideration of our Quadrennial Report, and requested that the IHEU update all references to “Taiwan” on our website to reflect the official United Nations terminology: “Taiwan, Province of China”. Other official United Nations terminology includes for example “Tibet, Autonomous Region of China”.

We expressed concerns about what the enforcement of this requirement meant for “our independence as an accredited NGO”. However, it was suggested that we should update our website to reflect the “correct terminology” as a prerequisite to further discussion about the deferral of our report. The submission of the Quadrennial Report is a condition of our continued accreditation with ECOSOC.

As humanists and internationalists, the IHEU shares the broader values and vision of the United Nations. We consider our accreditation and our work at forums such as the Human Rights Council of the utmost importance. We have therefore complied with the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations’ request to modify references.

Therefore, when referring to the state we use “Taiwan, Province of China”, except when quoting other sources (for example historical statements) or when referring to names or titles of institutions or organizations (for example “National Taiwan University”). Regardless, we may refer to the geographical place as “the island of Taiwan” and we may use the unadorned adjective “Taiwanese”.

All pages on this website which comply with the request to use this terminology contain information icons and other notices pointing back to the current “note on United Nations terminology on the IHEU website”. The notices say:

Changes have been made to this page after publication, to reflect United Nations terminology. More information.

All pages on the site containing the phrase “Taiwan, Province of China” can be found via search.

Historical Background

Following the decades-long Chinese Civil War between Nationalists and Communists, the Kuomintang-led government retreated in 1949 to the island of Taiwan. They declared in December 1949 that the city of Taipei was now the temporary capital of the “Republic of China”, as opposed to the Communist “People’s Republic of China”. However, the People’s Republic forces had taken over almost all of mainland China. Both sides continued to assert that they were the legitimate authority across all Chinese territories, though the Taiwanese government no longer officially makes this claim. With no armistice ever signed, it remains debatable whether the Chinese Civil War ever actually ended.

Today, China (the People’s Republic of) continues to assert that the island of Taiwan is a province of China. However, “Taiwan, Province of China” is self-governing and functions as a de facto state. The Taiwanese political system is generally recognised as a fair and free democracy (see for example the Freedom House report on Taiwan) and the democratically-elected Taiwanese government continues to assert its independence and has consistently lobbied to join the United Nations.

In contrast, China is a one-party state which widely oppresses civil liberties and is generally recognised as not free (see for exaple the Freedom House report on China).

Taiwan, Province of China, remains outside of the United Nations and diplomatically isolated in theory, although many states maintain de facto embassies and other ties.

China (the People’s Republic of) historically threatened to have nothing to do with the United Nations if the Taiwanese “Republic of China” was recognised, and the UN has long promoted the view that the island of Taiwan remains part of China and is not a sovereign state. The United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 2758, in 1971, removing the state from all representation at the United Nations.

China (the People’s Republic of) continues via various mechanisms to pressure other states and non-state actors including non-government organisations to conform to its stance on the island and to promote language which reinforces China’s claim over the island of Taiwan.

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2011 suggested that the United States of America and other nation states have put pressure on the United Nations to relax the enforcement of the “Taiwan, Province of China” terminology, and even to work toward a renewed recognition of the island in international affairs.

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