New Delhi, May 27: China's ascendancy in the UN seems almost unquestioned. A study by Gateway House has traced China's expanding influence in the world body, its related bodies, and influential non-UN multilateral bodies.
The research was conducted over four months in 2020-21, studying the most important multilateral agencies in the world including UN agencies, funds and programmes, as well as non-UN security, finance, and scientific agencies. The findings revealed that China is in a dominant position in several critical multilateral bodies, in both personnel and funding.
The most prominent are the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The links are obvious. The ITU sets global telecommunications standards, where China's Huawei is a major player. UNIDO was formed to encourage industrialisation in the developing world, but its importance has waned as countries found it unhelpful, leaving China in charge. China immediately connected UNIDO to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which UNIDO now endorses.
China's positioning at ICAO, which sets air navigation and safety standards, ensured that during the pandemic, Taiwan was excluded from all discussions, just as it was with the World Health Organization (WHO), over which China has a disproportionate influence. In October 2020, with the world writhing under the pain of Covid-19, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held triennial elections to select 15 new members.
Despite its abysmal human rights record, and the human and economic devastation inflicted by Covid globally, China was elected as a member with the lowest number of votes. Now here it stands, with a sheen of credibility provided by the UN, the study said. Then on May 4, China was further embedded into the UN system. China's Vice Minister in the Ministry of Commerce, Xiangchen Zhang, was appointed as one of four new Deputy Directors-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) along with the US, France, and Costa Rica.
India's candidate lost. While the world was preoccupied with opening the Chinese internal market, China spent years preparing to dominate and leave its mark on the external global system. In fact, it has been part of China's global agenda since 1992, the study said.
By 1997, China was a member of 20 per cent of multilateral organisations, up from 12 per cent in 1989, and by 2002, started to create new ones, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Over the last two decades, ever since it entered the WTO in 2001, China has set out to influence the global multilateral system.
The participation has grown more sophisticated over the years. China has carefully chosen clusters of agencies to lead whose work can be interwoven with and are interlinked to its own domestic agendas like 1½Made in China 2025', and the rise of Chinese companies. The multilateral agenda includes creating new global standards for technology, which can be led by China and its national corporate champions.
These in turn are linked to China's foreign policy strategy led by the Belt and Road Initiative, which has its own expansion plans 1½ the Digital Silk Road, Space Silk Road, and the Health Silk Road. The expanding influence is enabled by China's increased monetary contribution to the UN, both mandatory as a UN member and, increasingly, voluntary donations. According to this study, these have risen by 1096 per cent and 346 per cent respectively from 2010 to 2019.6
The study found that China is present either as the head or a deputy position in almost all the critical international agencies. China directly heads four of the 15 principal agencies of the UN I ½ FAO, UNIDO, ITU, ICAO.
Chinese deputies are present in nine of the 15 agencies I½ World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Monetary Fund (IMF), IMO, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), WHO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The study said China influences UN agencies through its proxies. The current Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhenoum Ghebreysus was elected with China's support in 2017. He is the former health and foreign minister of Ethiopia, which is one of the largest recipients of Chinese investments in Africa. The WHO was previously headed for 10 years by Margaret Chan, from Hong Kong. The WHO's delayed warnings and travel restrictions regarding the pandemic in China is a globally devastating outcome borne of China's influence.
The study said China also has a network of its nationals, who are career professionals or diplomats, at the lower rungs of the UN system. These officers, who have entered the UN system laterally or through the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) programme, are supposed to be impartial but may not be.
Some agencies are still firmly in the grip of the Western powers. For instance, the World Bank is with the US, the IMF is with the EU, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is with the UK, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is with France. China has been rising here too I ½ it has its people in senior positions at financial institutions, e.g., Shaolin Yang at the World Bank and Tao Zhang at the IMF.
In institutions where China occupies no position, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), UN Development Programme (UNDP), and UN Habitat, it has signed Memorandums of Understanding between those UN agencies and its Belt and Road Initiative through relevant domestic ministries, often leveraging its capacity for voluntary funding. Thus in effect, China's foreign policy agenda gets endorsed and co-promoted by the UN.
In mandatory contributions, at 12 per cent of the total, China is the second largest donor. Its voluntary donations have also been increasing, from $51 million in 2010 to $172 million in 2019, a 346 per cent rise in nine years. Combined, China becomes the fifth largest donor to the UN. This has implications. The study shows that where China is not leading an organisation, it almost certainly makes voluntary contributions. The voluntary contributions enable the UN's funds and programmes agencies to run their special projects, as only administrative, daily expenses are covered by the UN's core budget, the study said.
So, when China makes a $7.5 million contribution to the UNDP, it can influence the way development projects are implemented. China is increasingly involved with the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPO) through a recent $1 billion pledge to the UN Peace and Development Fund I ½ as the largest donor. This is viewed by some as a way for China to keep an eye on its investments in Africa.
Finally, even if Chinese nationals, its government or its ministries are not prominent in the UN, its state-owned companies are. The International Seabed Authority, which is "mandated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to organise, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area for the benefit of mankind as a whole" has awarded five contracts to Chinese companies for deep sea mining of polymetallic nodules, sulphides, and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, the study said.