Coming Soon to the United Nations: Chinese Leadership and Authoritarian Values

As Washington Steps Back, Beijing Will Take Charge

UN Secretary-General António Guterres shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, September 2018 Andy Wong / Reuters

For many years, the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September was a centerpiece of U.S. global leadership. President Barack Obama’s administration, for example, used the occasion to galvanize international action on issues such as climate change and refugee resettlement.

But when presidents and prime ministers gather in New York starting this week, they will do so under the auspices of an organization that is undergoing a profound transformation. The United States has let go of the wheel, and Beijing stands poised to take hold of it.

Eager to expand its influence on the world stage in ways that serve its interests, China has placed considerable resources behind an effort to present its leadership at the UN as a nimbler, more dynamic alternative to that of the United States. In the past few years alone, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has positioned its officials to head up four of the UN’s 15 specialized agencies, while the United States leads only one. It has also advanced more than two dozen memorandums of understanding in support of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and mobilized a consortium of illiberal states to tamp down international criticism of its repression of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang Province.

The United States has responded to China’s rising profile in only a piecemeal fashion, in part because Washington has been busy recalibrating its own relationship with the international body. The administration of President Donald Trump has passed through numerous ambassadors to the UN in a short time, while unilaterally withdrawing the United States from certain UN agencies and repudiating multilateral institutions more broadly.

With China seeking to steer the United Nations away from its founding principles, however, the United States can’t afford to sit back. A China-dominated UN would only lead to the steady erosion of U.S. values and interests in matters that range from nonproliferation to sustainable development. If the Trump administration is serious about competing strategically with China,

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.