A Taiwanese PhD student said this week a UNESCO-funded science conference denied him entry, claiming new “U.N. rules” banned Taiwanese nationals from participating in all UNESCO events, Taiwan News reported on Monday.
PhD student Yeh Chih-Fu applied to attend a virtual conference on quantitative biology organized by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), located in Italy, late last month. The Taiwanese national, who researches community ecology and biodiversity at Stanford University, said the UNESCO-funded ICTP rejected his application, citing unspecified “U.N. rules” denying Taiwanese nationals a place at the event. Yeh posted an excerpt of the rejection letter to his Twitter account on November 30.
— Chih-Fu Yeh (@ChihFuYeh) November 30, 2020
“Really upset to learn today that there are U.N. rules keeping Taiwanese from attending ICTP’s Winter School on Quantitative Systems Biology,” the PhD student wrote in the post.
Yeh posted an advertisement for the ICTP event to his Twitter account on December 1 in which the center encourages “female scientists” to apply. Frustrated with the ICTP’s hypocritical attempt at appearing inclusive, he wrote:
My advice for future @ictpnews @UNESCO event: Add an additional line"Taiwanese scientist will not be accepted" after the line"Female scientists are encouraged to apply" so ppl won’t waste time applying for an opportunity they will be rejected from based on their country of origin pic.twitter.com/eEtpmcTEbQ
— Chih-Fu Yeh (@ChihFuYeh) December 1, 2020
Responding to Yeh on Twitter, National Taiwan University professor of sociology John Liu revealed that the U.N. rule banning Taiwanese nationals from participation in UNESCO events was implemented in 2019.
“This is mainly the issue of UN/UNESCO but not organizers and lecturers, some organizers and lecturers are preparing a protest letter to ask for change of this rule [sic],” Yeh wrote on Twitter on December 2.
The PhD student’s predicament caught the attention of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which on December 6 “instructed its representative office in Italy to negotiate with the ICTP,” according to Taiwan News. Both UNESCO and the Italian government jointly fund 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,” according to the newspaper.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry noted 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” moving forward.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province and uses its political clout to apply international pressure on Taipei — including blacklisting Taiwan within U.N. organizations — to prevent the democratically-ruled island from successfully operating as a sovereign nation.