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China is using UN Agencies as an instrument to advance its global pursuits

Author: Ramaharitha Pusarla
Publication: Myind.net
Date:  June 2, 2020
URL:      https://www.myind.net/Home/viewArticle/china-is-using-un-agencies-as-an-instrument-to-advance-its-global-pursuits

US to withdraw from WHO

Adding heft to the growing perception of the US’s decline from the global politics, Trump administration announced the US withdrawal from the WHO. Reiterating his charges of the WHO’s complicity in global spread of Chinese virus, Trump renewed his threats of exiting the health regime. His decision comes days after China diligently managed to bypass a resolution signed by 116 countries presented at the WHO virtual conference calling for an independent investigation into origin and spread of the Chinese virus. Undermining the ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’., China diligently replaced critical paragraphs of the resolution with words like “as appropriate” and extricated itself from any obligatory investigation. Insisting that China has been ‘transparent, open and responsible’ President Xi gaslighted Chinese role and pledged $2 billion towards combatting the pandemic.

Even as a pandemic-stricken World grapples with the virus, WHO let off China. Clearly, China’s diplomatic victory despite its brazen coverup, strengthened popular distrust towards the UN agencies which are losing their sheen, relevance and credibility. Claiming WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros “alarming lack of independence” and “repeated missteps..that have been extremely costly for the World”, Trump withheld the US funding to WHO in March. US contributes $400 million per year to WHO’s annual budget of $4.8 billion 8.

A break down of the statistics shows that US compulsory WHO membership for 2020 is $58 million and that of China is $29 million with reported voluntary contribution of $ 6 million in 2018 while US contributed $281 million in 2018 10. Author wrote about WHO’s in action during initial stages of Corona outbreak in connivance with China in detail earlier16

Several national health agencies criticized timing of Trump’s decision and urged him to reconsider it. As pulling out from WHO at the height of the pandemic would hamper collective global response to tackle the disease. Pending Congress approval while it is not clear how quickly US can withdraw. But given, China’s leadership role at various international agencies and WHO’s deference it is important to dwell on China’s motives and motivations. WHO’s “China-centric” approach is just a tip of iceberg. Over the decades, China doubled up engagement with international agencies to position itself as the most influential global player.

From dismissing the UN as an instrument of US imperialism in 1970s to using it as a vehicle to advance its national interests, China had quite a journey. With deft-coalition building China stealthily tamed the UN ecosystem nurtured by the western value systems and liberal principles.

China’s initial stint with the UN

China made a global entry by claiming the UNSC seat as a permanent member on Oct 26th 1971. Through a UNGA resolution of 2758, Republic of China’s seat was transferred to People’s Republic of China. While this elevation ended China’s isolationism, China didn’t join World Bank, IMF, Conference of Disarmament (CD) and ILO till Mao’s death in 1976 15. Despite its initial trepidations about globalisation and inter-dependency, Samuel Kim summarized China progression from a “system-transforming approach” during the exclusion phase from 1946 to 70 to “system-reforming” in 1970s and later on to a “system-maintaining and system exploitation” approach 1. China had a characteristic maxi-mini strategy. Asserting its status as permanent member, China fiercely used veto power to make its point and simultaneously made extensive gains invoking its developing nation status. For instance, it forced UN to reduce its contribution status to 0.79% from 5.5% 2 while the US contributed to 25% and Japan, a non-permanent member paid 19.9%.

China fiercely guarded sovereignty and principles of self-determination and emphasised on Article 2.7 of UN charter which says- “nothing contained the present charter shall authorise the UN to intervene in the matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state”. With its uncompromising position on these aspects, China defied international rules and tightened its control over the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang and claimed sovereignty over Taiwan.

Beijing never deviated from the Maoist approach and beneath the veneer of pragmatic goals, it has always strived to use the conducive external environment for its internal development and enhancing international status. China’s inflexibility on sovereignty borne out of fear of being a victim of imperialist power in the past guided its foreign policy. China inexorably used past grievances to stoke nationalism to overcome the domestic pressure which are highly sensitive to its international policies. Consequently, China’s compliance to international rule of law has been influenced by the domestic rule of law and political culture.

China’s double standards

Justifying one-China policy, China prevented Taiwan from joining security, environment and human rights regimes. But acquiesced Taiwan entering financial and trading organisations. Consequently, Taiwan is member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the WTO. Taiwan became member of WTO in 2002 under the name of “separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei)”. Even Hongkong, is a member of APEC. China’s opposition to Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO is an offshoot of this obstinate approach.

Setting a new precedent for double standards, China refused to accede to any treaty, it has always been party to drafting the resolutions. China has actively involved in drafting the “Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture” but never ratified it. Similarly, China having been part of the drafting mission of ILO’s 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, signed the declaration but never complied with it3. With Cuba, it prevailed that UN Mission to Prison and Prisoners be subject to national laws and imperilled the basic objective.

China advocated supremacy of sovereignty over human rights. To challenge Western definition for Human Rights and deflect resolution critical of China’s human rights, Beijing rallied with like-minded countries. Built a cooperation to develop a consensus that effectively challenged the universal applicability of international human rights norms and firmly refused to allow international bodies to monitor conditions on Chinese soil. But China used UN agencies to accelerate its economic development to the hilt. It has been the largest borrower of World Bank and largest source of long term foreign capital as well.

China vehemently opposed any international intervention to monitor human rights situation in its territory.  For China human rights has been matter of domestic policy and it remained defiant about it. In what can be called a travesty of humanitarianism, China a known abuser of human rights, has been on the special panel that selects 17 special rapporteurs on free speech, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and health.

In October 2019, 23 countries issued a joint statement condemning China’s persecution of Uighur Muslims 4. These included the US, Canada, Japan, Australia. Countering this argument, 54 countries led by Belarus, Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, Serbia defended the detention as part of China’s counter-terror program.

China has consistently held on to the membership of UNHRC for four consecutive terms from 2006 to 2019. On April 1st despite the reports of China’s threatening actions on the whistle blowers of the Covid-19 outbreak and extraction of forced written confession of “illegal behaviour” by Dr Li Wenliang, Jiang Duan, Chinese mission official in Geneva was appointed as member of Consultative Group of UNHRC 5.

President Xi’s vision of making the UN the pivot to global rise

At the 19thCommunist Party Congress, President Xi outlined his vision for “taking active part in leading the reform of the global governance system”. Hinting at the comeuppance of penetrating the global organisations 9.

China invested heavily in three categories to foster its global aspirations- UN Peace Keeping Force, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). From refusing to contribute any forces in 1971, China became the second largest contributor to its budget now. China’s contributions are guided by strategic interest. By deploying more than 80% of Chinese troops deployed in Africa, a major source of oil imports and investments, China ensured safety of its strategic assets.

After opposing reduction of emissions at both 1997 Kyoto and 2009 Climate Change conferences, China voluntarily signed Paris Agreement in 2015 and promised to reduce Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) by 60-65% from 2005 levels by 2030. As opposed to Trump’s defiance towards climate change related obligations by acceding to Paris Agreement, China earned quick brownie points.

Having lifted several millions of people from poverty, China not only evolved as a role model by contributing enormously towards Millennium Development Goals (MDG) but advocated, “common but differentiated responsibilities” for implementing SDGs 11. China eventually used this SDG agenda to launch the “Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition”13.

China’s leadership roles at the UN

In 2017, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs was appointed to key position in UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs which plays a critical role in climate change, reduction of inequality and promoting development. Fang Liu, accused of not sharing crucial information about Corona protocols with Taiwan now heads the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Zhao Houlin appointed as Secretary General of International Telecommunication Union for the second four-term actively promoted Huawei’s business pursuits. In 2019, China’s former Vice Minister of Agriculture Qu Dongyu got elected as the Director-General of FAO 9.

Financial coercion and bribery have become a new norm as Chinese influence grew in the UN agencies. In 2013, Chinese government reportedly stopped an activist, Cao Shunli from travelling to Geneva to participate in UNHRC training. They detained her, after she died of an illness in detention, China blocked a moment of silence in her name at UNHRC in 2014 10.

Recently, UN tied up with Chinese tech company Tencent for conducting online video conferences and communication. UN Development Program (UNDP) partnered with Tencent in a new initiative “Connecting Cities to Solutions” to foster innovation and address urban challenges 14. With support of Russia and North Korea, China facilitated the passage of UN anti-Cybercrime pact 2019, bestowing legitimacy to “internet sovereignty” and the power to repress political dissent 12.

America pulls out from UNESCO and UNHRC

China’s elevation at UNHRC comes at a time when US withdrew from both the UNHRC and UNESCO. US which helped to found the UNESCO and accounted for 22% of the total budget stopped funding the organisation since 2011, after Palestine was accorded membership. After UNESCO undermined Israel’s connections to Jerusalem and named them as Palestinian states, Israel dropped out of UNESCO. Trump administration pulled out of UNESCO by October 2017. Earlier US withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 under Regan’s regime over fund misappropriation. US re-joined in 2003 6.

While a universal application of the human rights norms may not be a suitable way to address the wide spread human rights abuse. The unchecked brutal crackdown by authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo have been a curse on the humanity. But these perpetrators evaded scrutiny and weren’t ever held accountable for gross human rights violation. On the other hand, certain countries were wilfully charged and targeted. An underpinning high-order bias soon defined the functioning of UNHRC.

US believed that Israel has been the permanent standing agenda item on UNHRC.  Accusing the UNHRC of ‘chronic Israeli bias’, the US pulled out of UNHRC in June 20187. The move came at a time Trump was accused of separating families through his anti-immigration policies and holding meeting with North Korean Supremo Kim Jong Un with dubious human rights reputation and after the council called for a probe into the killing of the Palestinian protestors in the Gaza strip by Israel. While critics questioned US’s deflecting tactics, America bade goodbye to UNHRC.

In 2006, US boycotted UNHRC for three years under the leadership of Bush for admitting nations into the revamped UN Human Rights Council comprising of 47-elected members for a term of three years. It re-joined in 2009 and served for two terms. After China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Algeria and Venezuela won the elections to the council, unopposed in 2013, rights groups across the World censured the UNHRC.

Under Trump’s leadership, the US so far exited from 11 multilateral pacts and international agencies-the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Paris Climate Agreement, North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Open Skies Treaty, Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Global Compact for Migration, Iran Nuclear Deal. America has pulled out from UNESCO, UNHRC, UN Relief and Works Agencies (UNRWA), WHO (pending). Trump is challenging WTO and weakened NATO over European Allies reluctance towards the idea of collective defence commitment.

Trump’s America First Policy and withdrawal from global organisations paved way for commensurate decline in its soft power. Trump’s scant efforts to cobble up support of allies whose resentment overwhelmed the relationship weakened a coalition of democratic forces. In absence of a formidable pushback, China is marching ahead thrusting authoritarian agenda down the global institutions.

US financial contributions towards the UN are much higher than China. If US fails to use that leverage, China will transmogrify these agencies into unrecognisable exemplars of illiberal values, facilitating the hollowing out of rules-based order.

Looking back, at the height of the Cold war, Chinese President Deng Xiaoping denounced America’s, “vain (pursuit) of global hegemony” and warned the US of exerting pressure on the international organisations like the UN. Four decades, hence, China is exactly doing the same. For all these years, the US has used UN as an instrument to advance its pursuits. Now China is just replicating the Western strategy 9.

While Trump’s moves and attempts hints at his plans to recalibrate America’s global positioning, the inclement rise of an authoritarian China and hegemonic ambitions poses fresh threat to the transparent functioning of global agencies.

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