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As UN Prepares to Convene, Taiwanese Rally for Inclusion

Taiwanese politician Freddy Lim, 40, tells the crowd near Times Square that he hopes "all our friends around the world keep supporting Taiwan to finish our journey to freedom" during a rally for the inclusion of Taiwan in the United Nations. Chris Fuchs / for NBC News

Freddy Lim is not your typical Taiwanese politician: The 40 year old is a death metal rocker who last year co-founded a political party and won election in January to Taiwan’s parliament.

The ponytailed and tattooed Lim, frontman for his band Chthonic, which formed in 1996, flew into New York last week to attend a rally in hopes of using his starpower to bring international attention to Taiwan’s exclusion from the United Nations (U.N.).

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Strengthening his imperative, Lim said, was the election of Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai Ing-wen of the the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Tsai’s party has historically favored independence from China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province that must someday be reunited.

“The result of the election earlier this year means a lot to the Taiwanese community and the whole world, that people of Taiwan want changes and especially want equal participation rights in the international community,” Lim told NBC News at a rally this past weekend in Times Square.

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On Saturday, more than 100 demonstrators marched from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a park near the U.N., to an area penned in by metal police barricades on Seventh Avenue near 42nd Street to call for Taiwan’s entry into the U.N., Jenny Wang, one of the organizers, told NBC News.

The United Nations Membership for Taiwan March and Rally has been held annually for more than 20 years, organizers said, usually timed to coincide with the start of the General Assembly. Taiwan has not been represented in the U.N. since 1971, a sore spot for many of the island’s 23 million people and also for Taiwanese Americans.

At this year’s event, Lim joined a Tibetan activist, a former Chinese prisoner, and a former ambassador to Taiwan from the Dominican Republic, according to the event's organizers, in addressing the crowd from a makeshift stage, making the case for Taiwan’s inclusion in the U.N.

“We hope all our friends around the world keep supporting Taiwan to finish our journey to freedom,” Lim told attendees, who cheered and waved blue “UN for Taiwan” flags.

Wang, a 25-year-old born in the United States, said her parents told her she had attended the U.N. rallies when she was younger, though her first memory was when she was a senior in college. She said she was shocked to learn in college that Taiwan wasn’t in the U.N.

“I was very moved by a lot of the older generation here, pushing forward this event, talking to bystanders in broken English, still fighting this fight,” Wang said. “I was so moved and so touched, and I realized that it’s our responsibility as Taiwanese Americans to be that bridging figure.”

Wang said Taiwanese identity also drives participation in the rally.

“When we were growing up, our parents told us that we’re Taiwanese American and never to say you’re Chinese,” Wang said.

Jenny Wang, 25, one of the rally's co-organizers, vows to keep fighting for Taiwan's inclusion in the United Nations. Chris Fuchs / for NBC News

Identity matters to many Taiwanese, including those wary of closer ties between Taiwan and China. That wariness has grown in the last eight years as former President Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party signed more than 20 trade pacts with China.

Ma’s party, which fled China for Taiwan in 1949 amid a civil war, has historically favored reunification with the mainland.

Public disquiet eventually boiled over in March 2014, when Nationalist legislators tried passing a cross-strait trade services agreement that many Taiwanese feared would bring the island and China even closer. Later dubbed the Sunflower Movement, Taiwanese youth, many of them college students, stormed the parliament in protest, holing themselves up inside for nearly a month.

Borcheng Hsu, who’s been attending U.N. rallies since high school, stressed the importance of engaging youth.

“We know that this is a long-term movement,” Hsu, 40, told NBC News. “It’s always key that the younger generation appreciate or know the cause that their parents and grandparents fight for.”

Taiwan’s entry into the U.N. is a thorny issue that some worry could unsettle relations with China, Taiwan, and the U.S. Less than a half year in office, Tsai did not apply for membership this year, pressing instead for “meaningful participation” with U.N.-related agencies, according to the Taipei Times.

China has repeatedly blocked Taiwan’s efforts to join the U.N., arguing it isn’t a sovereign nation.

Lim, the rock star turned legislator who cofounded the New Power Party, said he’s optimistic Taiwan will someday make it back into the international organization.

“We have to make friends all around the world,” he said. “We have to be ready when the opportunity comes.”

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