UNITED NATIONS – The recent election of a Chinese official to a top U.N. organization is the latest sign of a steadily growing influence of China at the world body -- something the U.S. is viewing as a “concerted push” by China to advance its interests and authoritarian agenda abroad.
Qu Dongyu, a Chinese government official, was elected as the next director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization last month, meaning that Chinese officials now run four out of 15 specialized U.N. agencies. The U.S. does not head any of the 15 agencies, although it does lead related funds, such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP).
"I'm very grateful to my motherland, without 40 years of successful reform and an open door policy I would not have been who I am,” Qu Dongyu said after his election.
Dongyu’s victory at the FAO now sees Chinese officials heading the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO,) the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that deals with information and communication technologies, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which is responsible for development goals.
“China is definitely being more assertive at the U.N., in line with its status as the second biggest payer,” one U.N. diplomat told Fox News. “They use their partnership with developing countries to try to knock down what they don’t like, especially on human rights.
"Along with Russia, they challenge the rules-based international order which most of the world believes has made us safe and prosperous. So most of the world needs to be ready to push back. “
Brett Schaefer, a leading expert on the U.N. at The Heritage Foundation told Fox News that the Chinese have been trying to expand their influence at the U.N. and other international organizations for a while, noting that the first Chinese national to head a specialized U.N. agency was at the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007.
“China uses ICAO – as it did with WHO – to block Taiwanese participation and priorities,” Schaefer said. “China has used the ITU to legitimize its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and advance its Internet goals….It is very clear China has a plan and they are targeting individual organizations to realize it.”
Schaefer went on to say that China has used its relationship with developing countries to great effect, and has not been shy in using financial and political pressure to get support from reluctant states.
“Unlike Western nationals, whose governments largely respect the independence of UN officials, China expects and receives overt support for Chinese policies from their nationals,” he said, pointing to the arrest of former Interpol President Meng Hongwei as an example of what happens to those who defy Beijing.
A State Department official dismissed criticism that the Trump administration had retreated from the U.N. and other international organizations, leaving a vacuum for Chinese influence to fill.
“Our desire to reform and strengthen the U.N, into a more efficient and effective organization does not diminish our leadership on the global stage – it is part and parcel of our determination to lead,” the official said.
The official went on to say that the U.S. is well aware of China’s ambitions at the U.N.
“There is no question that China is using any means possible to increase its influence in international organizations and across the greater international system,” the official said. “China’s concerted push has more to do with advancing its self-serving interests and authoritarian model than demonstrating genuine leadership consistent with the principles and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the U.N Charter.”
When asked about the criticisms of the Chinese policy at the U.N., a spokesperson for the Chinese mission to the U.N. told Fox News: “China firmly upholds multilateralism, the UN-centered international system and the international order based on international law, and is committed to maintaining world peace and promoting common development.”
One nation that has felt the brunt of China’s actions at the UN is neighboring Taiwan. A spokesperson from its Taipei Economic and Cultural office in New York told Fox News that China blocks Taiwan from taking part in the UN and its specialized agencies it controls by pushing member states not to endorse proposals calling for Taiwanese participation.
“What’s even more absurd is that Republic of China (Taiwan) passport holders are not allowed to enter the U.N. grounds as tourists, and that Taiwan journalists are denied accreditation to cover U.N. meetings such as the General Assembly,” the spokesperson said.
Gordon Chang, an expert on China and East Asia, urged a more forceful response in facing China’s ambition, and warned that the U.S. is now in “an existential contest with the [Chinese Communist] Party.”
“That means we must, among other things, oppose at every turn China’s participation in U.N. bodies,” he said. “As a part of this effort, we need to publicly make the case that the Chinese regime is illegitimate and that a ruling group committing atrocities at home against racial and religious minorities, such as the Uighurs and Tibetans, can have no role in international institutions. “