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On 10 December, the General Assembly requests the Secretary-General to seek the release by China of captured personnel of the UN Command in Korea.

In 1954, Dag Hammarskjöld began to establish a central role for the Secretary-General of the United Nations in both the political and the administrative arenas. 

Prompted by Security Council resolution S/3139/Rev.2   [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish] one of his earliest  initiatives in the political arena was to offer to participate personally as a mediator in a conference between Israel and Jordan to "discuss various concrete and limited issues arising out of the implementation of the Armistice Agreement".  His secondary aim was to help in "smoothing out the transition to formal contact" between the two governments. 

The lack of success with this initiative, the preparations by the major powers for Geneva peace conferences on Korea and Indochina, and the strictly bilateral U.S. - Soviet Union talks concerning Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech  to the General Assembly, caused the press to allege that  the United Nations was  functioning ineffectively and was being bypassed and undercut. 

Mr. Hammarskjöld refuted these allegations strongly and noted that, "even if the United Nations is not on the inside of certain developments,... [these developments] will come inside the orbit of United Nations consideration in one way or another". 

The Secretary-General stated that United Nations' technical and trusteeship activities, although conducted in the background, are of direct political significance because they have "repercussions on the development of administration, on the development of democratic institutions, and on the creation of a background for self-government". He went on to say that when combined with economic activities in other parts of the world, "they have an immediate political implication in the general balance of these countries with the rest of the world" and often have "even more [political] reality than resolutions passed by the General Assembly".

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To underline the Organization's responsibility towards the economic and political development of the "so-called" underdeveloped countries, he said: 
"The reason why I feel this is a United Nations activity and something which is quite essential is that I do not see any instrument other than the United Nations which can channel the things that can be provided - know-how and so forth - by the more highly developed countries.  In the long run, that operation cannot be pursued by any national Government as well as it can be pursued by the United Nations.  There is no other international organization or group of organizations which can do exactly the same job". 

(Press Conference, February 10, 1954)

In addition to frequent press conferences and briefings, Mr. Hammarskjöld also had numerous public speaking engagements throughout the year.  His goal was to change and broaden the existing perspectives and attitudes towards the United Nations and to stress that in order to find "solutions which approach the common interest and application of principles of the Charter", the world community must develop an understanding of common purpose, the problems of other peoples, and the background of their endeavors. A parallel goal was to showcase the Organization as a place in which newly-independent countries "... can find assistance, and in whose forums they can engage as equals with the more advanced nations in the search for the values which are of common concern to all civilized men" and where there is reciprocal benefit for the others because of the "fresh points of view and new traditions and cultures" brought by them.

On 10 December, Mr. Hammarskjöld was asked to play his first major role in an international conflict when General Assembly resolution 906 [Chinese| French| Russian|Spanish] requested the Secretary-General  to seek the release, in accordance with the Korean Armistice Agreement, of 11 American airmen of the United Nations Command in Korea and all other captured personnel of that Command desiring repatriation. For the General Assembly to ask the Secretary-General to intercede for reasons other than humanitarian was without precedent.

In  Swedish Portraits: Dag Hammarskjöld, Peter Wallensteen  explained the complications of the situation as follows: "The People's Republic of China was not represented in the UN.  China's seat in the  Security Council was held by the losers of the civil war, the  nationalist Chiang Kai-shek regime that had fled to Formosa  (Taiwan).  The U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the People's Republic either. By handing the issue over to the UN, the American government was washing its hands of  responsibility. Any failures could be blamed on the UN.  Furthermore, the UN had been one of the belligerents in the conflict against China during the Korean War and had directed sanctions at China. Hammarskjöld's task as the foremost representative of the UN was to somehow bring about the release of the American airmen. China was hardly likely to accept his authority as Secretary-General of the UN, much less see any reason to obey the recommendations of the General Assembly.  Overcoming China's suspicions would require great diplomatic skills". 

Thus, in order to pre-empt an immediate rejection of the resolution by the Chinese, minutes after it was adopted, Mr. Hammarskjöld sent a personal cablegram to Chou En-lai, Prime Minister of the State Council and Minister for Foreign Affairs, People's Republic of China, expressing the desire to meet with him in Peking for direct discussions. His 
"independent responsibilities as Secretary-General which derived either explicitly from the Charter or from its philosophy rather than from the resolution itself"

were to be the basis for his negotiations. Because the Chinese government had repeatedly declared its readiness to subscribe to the Charter and its desire to be a member of the United Nations, and because Mr. Hammarskjöld consistently supported this desire, there was a possibility that he would be successful.  Six days later he received an affirmative reply.

In his Interim Report on Implementation of the Assembly's Resolution, [Chinese|French|Russian| Spanish] the Secretary-General discussed this exchange of cablegrams as well as the fact that he would be departing that day, December 30, 1954, for Peking.

Unless otherwise noted, the information included in these pages is based on the "Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations: Volumes II-V: Dag Hammarskjöld", selected and edited with commentary by Andrew W.Cordier and Wilder Foote, Columbia University Press, 1974-1975.
Events of 1953 Events of 1954 Events of 1955 Events of 1956 Events of 1957 Events of 1958 Events of 1959 Events of 1960 Events of 1961