China's growing clout at UN powered by its growing contributions

China pays almost 120 million to the annual budget of WHO the second highest contributor and has the third-largest voting power at the World Bank based on its shareholding. Beijing has made a concerted effort to have its nationals head international organisations,  and the West later organised a pushback.

Arul Louis Feb 12, 2023
Representational Photo

China’s posture in the world is reflected in the UN where it has leveraged its growing economic might to become a power player. It is the second largest contributor to the UN's coffers, sending $491 million or 15.24 per cent of its annual budget and an important contributor to other agencies.

Beijing’s One Bridge One Road project has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into projects in scores of developing countries, in many cases clamping them into a debt trap. For how this influence can work, take the Security Council reforms that are now caught in a cycle of inaction.

The reform process known as the Intergovernmental Negotiations had made the most progress ever in 2015 under the leadership of Courtenay Rattray, who had brokered a breakthrough in the stalled process.

And then, Rattray who was the permanent representative of Jamaica at that time pulled out of the IGN under the orders of his government which said it wanted him to devote more attention to other areas.

The advances made under Rattray collapsed and the IGN is mired in repetitive rhetoric.

Behind his removal was the hand of China, which opposes reforms that could add India and Japan to the Security Council as permanent members.

Beijing, which was negotiating a $1.2 billion project for a port and industrial park in Jamaica, had demanded his removal from the IGN.

The government of Prime Minister Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller obliged.

But ironically the project was scrapped when her People’s National Party lost the election in 2016 and Jamaica Labour Party’s Andre Holness took over.

A move at the UN Human Rights Council last October to discuss China’s alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang Province was voted down.

Any kind of condemnation of China is an impossibility at the Security Council, where it has veto powers, or at the General Assembly, where it can muster enough opposition. 

But even more problematic was the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s admission that she had been under “tremendous pressure” over a report on China’s human rights violations against the Uyghurs.

After delaying the report’s release for several years, she published it on her last day in office – saving her from facing the wrath of Beijing.

Republican Senator Marc Rubio asserted that the report “downplayed” the severity of the human rights violations and added, “Clearly, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is willing to go to great lengths to hide their crimes, even if it means undermining the authority of international organisations”. 

Several human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have criticised Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of not being vocal enough on the Uyghurs issue. 

He has, however, rejected the assertion saying that he has publicly criticised China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

The World Bank presents yet another example of China exerting its economic muscle.

An independent inquiry found that International Monetary Fund’s head Kristalina Georgieva while she was the chief executive of the World Bank had “unduly pressured” staff to change the rank of China in its 2018 report surveying ease of doing business in various countries. 

At the World Health Organisation (WHO), Peter Ben Embarek who led a team of scientists to study the Covid outbreak in Wuhan has said they were pressured on what they could report on its origins.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was criticised in the early days of the pandemic for opposing other countries imposing restrictions on travel from China and for praising its initial response while delaying the declaration of an international public health emergency.

China pays almost 120 million to the annual budget of WHO – the second highest contributor – and has the third-largest voting power at the World Bank based on its shareholding. Beijing has made a concerted effort to have its nationals head international organisations,  and the West belateldy organised a pushback.

Currently, the Food and Agriculture Organisation is headed by Qu Dongyu, who was elected in 2019 defeating a French candidate.

The UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) was headed by Li Yong and the International Civil Aviation Organisation by Fang Liu till 2021.

China’s attempt at having its citizen head Interpol, the global organisation for law enforcement, backfired.

Under Meng Hongwei, who was elected in 2016, the Montreal-headquartered Interpol was accused of misusing “red alerts”, the international all-points wanted bulletin, against critics of China’s leadership.

But he mysteriously disappeared from France in 2018 and surfaced in China, where he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to more than 13 years in prison.

Weixiong Chen is currently the acting executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, a key UN unit for fighting terrorism.


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