Is China’s global influence on the wane?

China has blocked several times attempts to designate Pakistan-based operatives behind attacks on India as global terrorists, which would place them under international sanctions.

Arul Louis Apr 17, 2023
Photo Courtesy: Xinhua

China’s Influence at the world body – a barometer of its global clout – measured by a recent secret electoral vote has shown a downward drift even as it maintains an iron grip on power at the UN Security Council because of its veto powers. China went head-to-head against India in elections at the 53-member UN Economic and Social Council for the UN Statistical Commission: India polled 46 votes, while China came in third with 19 votes, behind South Korea with 23.

And, in a second round of balloting for the second seat on the commission for the Asia Pacific region, China tied with South Korea with 25 votes each, and Seoul got the seat in a draw of lots.

It was a big change for China pushing its goal of global dominance.

The difference between New Delhi and Beijing is stark in a changed situation where China’s largesse increasingly looks like a usurious power play while India is leading the efforts to restructure the crushing debts of the developing countries.

Beijing poured hundreds of billions of dollars into its web of One Belt One Road initiative across the world and the bills are coming due to the recipients.

As the president of the G20, India has positioned itself as the voice of the Global South, while avoiding strident anti-imperialist/anti-neocolonial rhetoric, and this has put India on the opposite side to China, which probably is the biggest direct lender, although other countries and multinational institutions are also in the ranks of lenders.

At the G20 finance ministers meeting in February, India pushed proposals for the big lenders -- especially China -- to take a “haircut” – write off portions of loans – to give relief to the debtor nations as they struggle from the economic crisis from the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine war.

At the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Washington this month, India again took centrestage as a co-chair with the heads of those organisations of the Global Sovereign Debt Restructuring Roundtable to find a solution to the debt crisis.

As global polarisation accelerates, China is the leading force on one side of the divide, and in a choice between India and China, especially if the ballot is secret, the preference appears to be to the sort of neutral country.

To counter China’s attempts to get elected to international bodies, especially in leadership positions, the foreign ministers of the Quad, made up of India, the US, Japan and Australia, declared their commitment last month to “independent” candidates.

After their meeting, they said in a joint statement, “We will support meritorious and independent candidates for elections in the UN and in international forums to maintain the integrity and impartiality of the international system”.

While China’s grip may loosen in anonymous elections, in open voting it still can use its position as a lender to advantage as it did at the UN Human Rights Council last October when a proposal to discuss China's alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang Province was voted down.

It has a steely hold on the most important body of the UN, the Security Council where it can wield its veto as a permanent member or like any member on its committees like the ones for terrorism sanctions.

China has blocked several times attempts to designate Pakistan-based operatives behind attacks on India as global terrorists, which would place them under international sanctions.

But it has had to relent in some cases under international pressure. Beijing agreed in January to designate Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Deputy Chief Abdul Rehman Makki after having blocked it earlier.

In 2019, China lifted its block on Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohamme (JeM).

But it continues to block adding to the international terrorist list LeT leaders Sajid Mir and Shahid Mahmood, and JeM leader Abdul Rauf Azhar.

In the long range, Beijing can also block the expansion of the Security Council’s permanent membership, although it is already facing pressure from the African nations, a constituency it has sought to cultivate.

Organisationally, China uses the power of the purse for influence. It is the second largest contributor to the UN’s budget sending $438 million last year.

It gets it a measure of deference from UN officials.

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet admitted that she had been under "tremendous pressure" over a report on China's human rights violations against the Uyghurs.

She published the report only on her last day in office after delaying its release for several years.


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