Experience of a More Influential China at the United Nations

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Experience of a More Influential China at the United Nations

WAN Jingzhang


The Evolution of China’s Relationship with the UN

China is a victorious country of World War II, one of the founding members of the UN, and a permanent member of Security Council.


However, for the 26 years since the founding of the UN in 1945 to 1971, China’s lawful seat in the UN had been occupied by Chiang Kai-shek authority. On October 25, 1971, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 2758 which Decides to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it. It marked a new chapter in history. The representatives of People’s Republic of China officially made their debut at the UN, and the position and role of China in international multilateral affairs began to be acknowledged by the world.


With steadily increasing comprehensive national strength as a result of the reform and opening-up, China has made remarkable achievements and gained more influence in multilateral affairs. In September 2015, President Xi Jinping’s official visit to the UN ushered in a new era in which China is more actively participating in international affairs.


China’s Veto Power at the Security Council

Atypical case was in 1992 when Security Council was debating the situation in Libya. At that time, the US, UK and France claimed that the Gaddafi Government had planned the Lockerbie and the Air France bombings in 1988 and tried to push the Security Council to adopt a resolution to impose sanctions against Libya.


In view of the great disagreement within the Security Council and the lack of legal basis of the accusation against Libya, we submitted our proposal to the capital that if the sponsoring countries refused to accept our amendments and put the draft resolution to vote, we would vote against it. This proposal was accepted by the capital. China’s firm stand stunned the three sponsoring countries. Mr. Pickering, the US Representative to the UN, met with Ambassador Li Daoyu several times and asked China to reconsider its vote position. Mr. Pickering said to Amb. Li that the US understood China’s concern and did not ask China’s to vote for the draft resolution, and that China’s abstention was the best support for the US. China’s words caused significant deterrent effect.


Later, with the changing situation and after consideration of Sino-US bilateral relations, the capital instructed us to abstain at the vote. The representatives of the US, UK and France felt relieved when learned that China would not vote against the draft resolution. In subsequent consultations, they had to seriously consider the amendments from China and other Council members. Finally, the Resolution 748 was adopted by 10 votes in favor and 5 abstentions.


Another interesting case was the deliberation of the extension of UN Mission in Haiti during 1996 and 1997. At that time, the Haitian government determined to develop relations with the Taiwan authority, a move considered by China as a flagrant violation of the spirit of UNGA Resolution 2758 and detrimental to the political foundation of cooperation between China and Haiti at the UN. After China threatened to vote against the extension of the Missionthe Haitian government had to made public apology.


A Typical Case of China’s Use of Veto

As a responsible member of the international community, China has always been prudent in using its veto power at the Security Council.


In early 1997, China vetoed the Security Council draft resolution to send UN military observers to Guatemala, because the latter not only maintained official relations with the Taiwan authority but also co-sponsored the draft resolution for Taiwan’s return to the UN every year.


In that year, in order to supervise the implementation of The Guatemalan Peace Accords, Guatemala eagerly hoped that international military observers could be sent to Guatemala at an early date. Although China supported the Guatemalan Peace Process, Guatemala’s actions, including its relations with Taiwan and invitation to Taiwan to attend the signing ceremony of The Guatemalan Peace Accords, seriously damaged the political foundation of its cooperation with China at the UN and thus caused great obstacle to China’s support for its peace process. China had repeatedly explained its position to Guatemala and other countries and asked Guatemala to withdraw the invitation to Taiwan and to stop supporting Taiwan’s attempt to return to the UN, but Guatemala did not take it seriously, taking it for granted that China would not veto the draft resolution to send military observers to the country. At the Security Council session held at the beginning of 1997, China vetoed the draft resolution in spite of pressures from other countries. This is the only veto by China in the period of1973 to 1997.


Repercussion and Shock at the UN Secretariat Caused by Chinas Resumption of the Exercise of Sovereignty over Hong Kong

July 1 1997 was the day when China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Before and after the handover, diplomats of all countries highly praised the smooth transition and considered it as China’s diplomatic victory and a sign of China’s growing international influence. Words from a visiting Counsellor from India were typical. He told me that he could not imagine that the handover was possible if China had not been strong enough. Mrs. Thatcher, the “Iron Lady”, was arrogant but realistic. China is not Argentina, and is no longer the weak Qing Dynasty a hundred years ago. The UK could not but acknowledge that it’s no longer China’s rival in terms of strength and law, and therefore had to make a decent retreat.


Chinas Increasing Participation in the UN Peacekeeping Operations

Since China’s first participation in UNPKO in 1989, it has become one of UN members which have sent the biggest number of peacekeepers. By the time of the 2016 General Assembly, China had participated in 24 peacekeeping operations, and9 out 16 PKOs at that time. Peacekeepers from China served in the Middle East, Western Sahara, Namibia, Kuwait, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Kosovo, Liberia, Haiti and South Sudan.


China’s active role has been widely praised by the international community and was commended by the UN. Prominent Chinese military officers, soldiers and police have been awarded Medals several times. The contribution of China’s peacekeepers shows that China’s ability to fulfill its international responsibilities has been strengthened, that China’s role in coordinating relations between developing countries has been significantly enhanced, and that China is a positive and firm force in maintaining world peace and stability. China plays an exemplary role in international peacekeeping missions, and the UN hopes that China will play a greater role in the future.


In 2015, during the summit in commemorating the 70thanniversary of the founding of the UN, President Xi Jinping announced that China would join the new “Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System”, and decided to set up a standing peacekeeping police force and build a standby peacekeeping force of 8000 people. Among the permanent members of the Security Council, China has the largest number of forces in the peacekeeping operations. The solemn commitment of the Chinese government has been welcomed by the international community and China will definitely play a more important role in peacekeeping operations.


China’s Vital Role in the Election of the UN Secretary-General

In 1981, Mr. Waldheim, the two-term UN Secretary-General from Austria, announced his intention for the third term. However, the developing countries, who believed that the post of Secretary-General should not always be occupied by candidates from Europe, jointly recommended Salim Ahmed Salim, then Foreign Minister of Tanzania, as their candidate.


China is of the view that ever since the founding of the UN, only one out the four Secretary-Generals (Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjöld from Sweden, U Thant from Burma, and Kurt Waldheim from Austria) was from Asia, and this did not reflect the composition of the Member States and the role of the Third World at the UN. Accordingly, China considered it reasonable that the next Secretary-General should come from Africa and decided to firmly support the reasonable demand of the Third World.


In order to determine the candidates for the new Secretary-General, the Security Council conducted a total of 16 marathon informal secret ballots for 20 consecutive days. The US repeatedly vetoed the candidacy of Salim for 16 rounds (The US had been uncomfortable that in 1971 when China restored its legal seat in the UN, Salim showed great joy with other representatives from the Third World by dancing in the UN). China waged a tit-for-tat struggle and casted 16 vetoes against Waldheim. The deadlock forced the opposing sides to withdraw the two candidates and after wide consultations, a compromise was reached. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, the Permanent Representative to the UN from Peru, a Latin American developing country, was recommended by the Security Council and elected the 5thUN Secretary-General by the General Assembly.


In 1996, when the US rejected the re-election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the 6th Secretary-General from Egypt, China firmly defended the interests of African countries, and insisted on it that the next Secretary-General should come from Africa, thus forced the Western countries to give up their hope to find a candidate from developed countries. After repeated contests, support for the Organization of African Unity countries prevailed. Finally, Kofi Annan from Ghana, the then Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, was elected as the new Secretary-General.


The Increase of China’s Contribution as Objective Reflection of Comprehensive National Strength

Since its restoration of the lawful seat in the UN in 1971, Chinas contribution has gone through three stages of rising and falling.


In 1971, out of political considerations, China paid by 4% of the total contribution as the Taiwan authority did before. In the 1974 adjustment, Chinas contribution scale was increased to a record high of 5.5%, and was kept until 1979. However, based on the principle of UN contribution affordability (a complex formula for a comprehensive calculation of a country’s total economic volume and per capita capacity), this scale went far beyond Chinas capability as a developing country with a large population. Under China’s strong demand, the UN Committee on Contributions considerably reduced Chinas contribution in the next 20 or more years, and the contribution scale reached a record low of 0.72% in 1995. But after over 10 years’ reform and opening-up, China’s economic development had achieved significant results and the national economic strength had been greatly enhanced. The economic achievements, together with the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, gave rise to the increase of China’s contribution scale to 3.189% in 2010, 5.15% in 2014 and the current 7.921%.


The increase in the contribution scale not only represents a sign of increase of the international obligations of the country, but also indicates that the country has more impact and influence on UN affairs. It is a reflection of China’s growing national strength in international system.


Increase of Numbers and Rise of Positions of Chinese Staffs in the UN and Other International Organizations

The number of citizens of a country serving at the UN Secretariat, in particular the seniority and importance of their positions, can directly show the country’s influence on the Secretariat, and can be an indirect indicator to measure the country’s prestige at the UN and its overall influence in international affairs. This is an unwritten but widely accepted “implicit standard”.


Due to reasons such as history, culture, education, China has less staffs at the UN and they are relatively in lower positions in comparison with Western and some developing countries. The total number of Chinese staff at the Secretariat is not small, but most of them are in language, technical, service and other auxiliary departments, and Chinese in senior posts are rare.


Over the last decade, with the continuous increase of China’s influence, situation of Chinese staffs in the UN has been significantly improved. After Ban Ki-moon took office of the Secretary-General, the Chinese Deputy Secretary-General, who used to be in charge of Department of Technical Cooperation for Development and Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, is now in charge of Department of Economic and Social Affairs, a more important position.


Meanwhile, more and more Chinese are holding senior posts in other international organizations, such as Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO),Zhao Houlin, Secretary-General of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Xu Haoliang, Assistant Administrator of UNDP and Director for Asia and Pacific and Li Yong, Director-General of United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Nevertheless, due to various limitations and factors, the number and position of Chinese staff in international organizations still fall behind China’s international status.


A New Partnership of Win-win Cooperation Between China and UN

In his speech at the 70thSession of the UN General Assembly, President Xi Jinping pointed out that China’s vote at the UN always belongs to developing countries. He also announced that in support of the UN, China decided to establish a 10-year, 1 billion USD China-UN peace and development fund to advance multilateral cooperation and to world peace and development.


The all-around cooperation between China and the UN will make the world better.  China’s active participation in multilateral affairs will undoubtedly benefit the UN and the whole international community, and this kind of new partnership of win-win cooperation will continue to develop and achieve greater success.


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