Dec 13, 2019

Scoop: The World Bank told Taiwanese staff to get Chinese passports

This year, the World Bank told current and prospective employees of Taiwanese nationality they must present Chinese travel documents in order to maintain or pursue employment.

Why it matters: China has recently ramped up its campaign to systematically force Taiwan and its citizens out of the international community. But forcing out its own staff in this way violates World Bank employment principles.

World Bank human resources staff have told Taiwanese nationals that they can only be employed by the World Bank if they have identification documents from the People's Republic of China.

  • Taiwanese law prohibits citizens from maintaining dual citizenship with China.
  • This means that in order to abide by the policy as relayed by World Bank staff, Taiwanese employees of the World Bank would have to choose between giving up their job, or choosing to become de facto nationals of the People's Republic of China and thus jeopardize their Taiwanese citizenship.

The big picture: Taiwan governs itself but China views the island as part of its sovereign territory. For decades Beijing has waged a highly successful campaign to push Taiwan out of multilateral organizations.

  • Taiwan is not a World Bank member state. But the World Bank has long employed Taiwanese nationals.

What they're saying: After being contacted by Axios, the World Bank expressed regret for its actions regarding Taiwanese staff.

  • "When senior management was recently made aware, steps were immediately taken to revise the guidance," a World Bank spokesperson told Axios. "Staff who are not nationals of a member country or a country where the World Bank group operates will retain their current employment status."
  • The spokesperson said, "Our Principles of Staff Employment require that we treat our staff fairly. It is regrettable that this past practice led to some staff being asked to obtain another passport for purposes of employment as a national of that member state. This was not consistent with our values as an institution and has been remedied."
  • The World Bank added that it has a long-standing practice of giving hiring preference to nationals from member countries and countries where the World Bank Group operates.

Earlier this month, World Bank staff expressed concern internally about the recent actions towards Taiwanese staff.

  • In early November, an online forum for World Bank employees allowed staff to propose questions for an all-staff town hall with World Bank Group President David Malpass.
  • One of the most up-voted questions posted to the internal forum was about the Taiwan policy.
  • The question, which was viewed by Axios, read: "Why is the Bank quietly but systematically requiring all Taiwanese national staff (including consultants) to concede their national passports and their claim as natural Taiwanese citizens and forcing these staff to accept Chinese passports (and de facto citizen status)? Why is Management allowing a member state to trample on the rights and dignity of staff? How can the Bank have any moral and ethical standing and on what basis can the Bank defend such an abhorrent treatment of its own staff?"
  • Malpass did not address the question in the subsequent town hall.

Between the lines: A March 4, 2019 post on the World Bank's internal website titled "Recruitment of Chinese nationals from Taiwan" laid out the following recruitment guidance:

  • "Candidates from Taiwan, China, can only be employed  by the Bank for consultant or any other appointment if they hold PRC passports. Taiwanese applicants without PRC passports can apply for them from the Chinese embassy of Washington. HRS should inform the Office of the Executive Director for China before hiring any staff from Taiwan, China."
  • But the World Bank said this was posted to the internal website due to a technical error and has now been removed.
  • The World Bank told Axios: "This guidance on our internal website dates back to 1999. It was never adopted as policy by the Bank, and it was not based on the institution’s Principles of Staff Employment or our Articles of Agreement."

The bottom line: As China grows more assertive on the world stage, Taiwan and its nationals are in an increasingly precarious situation.

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