The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how China has taken hold of international organisations such as the United Nations general bodies and specialised agencies, as well as other intergovernmental agencies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). While the pandemic has exposed the loyalty of these biased institutions towards China, the weakening of these institutions has been taking place over the past few years.
Under Donald Trump’s leadership, the US has been sulking at these international organisations, cutting funding, refusing to engage with them, and quite impulsively, withdrawing its political influence over these institutions. This has led to a void that China has been happy to fill and its influence has grown manifold in only a few years. The idea is simple, if you leave the steering wheel in ‘protest,’ someone else will drive, sidelining you further.
The United States President recently announced that he shall hold back American funding to the WHO as the WHO chief came under the lens for working at the behest of China and misleading the entire world about the COVID-19 outbreak. “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works. But when they call every shot wrong, that’s no good,” Trump said in a White House conference.
WHO works as a Chinese agency and therefore, the United States will drive itself away from the institution- this was Trump’s reaction to a specialised UN agency getting shockingly compromised to Beijing. But then Trump has always been impulsive and hasty in his reaction towards biases within the United Nations.
As soon as Trump came into power, he got dismayed by the United Nations in general and the UNHRC in particular as the institution has a strong tendency to keep passing resolutions against Israel over the Israel-Palestine conflict. While there is a general consensus within the US to maintain strong ties with Tel Aviv, Trump’s ideological bent towards the Jewish State is rather strong and unwavering.
When his ideological leanings towards Israel got coupled with his conflicts of interest in Israel, Trump administration decided to leave the UN Human Rights Council citing its anti-Semitism and this started the process of the United States inadvertently creating spaces for China to occupy within the United States.
The United States is still the biggest financial contributor to the United Nations, and China, on the other hand, hasn’t been that big a contributor. In fact, Beijing surpassed Japan only very recently as the second-largest contributor to the United States. The US gave over $670 million last year to the UN for its operations while China gave $370 million. But with Trump’s flawed strategy of not battling it out within the United Nations and instead deserting it all together has allowed China to punch above its weight and the results of China’s endeavours are shocking. China leads four out of 15 specialised agencies of the UN, while no other nation leads more than one.
Trump is worried about the WHO becoming a Chinese agent, but WHO is just the tip of the iceberg, and Beijing has, in fact, taken hold of the entire system. In January 2019, Kevin Moley, the senior US State Department official responsible for overseeing US relations with the United Nations and other international organisations had warned that China was on the rise and American diplomatic corps needed to do everything in their power to block Beijing’s ambitions.
Pandemics like Coronavirus happen when China is able to install people like Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and China is able to install them because Trump has cut out on participation at these bodies over accusations of bias within the United Nations and other international organisations.
China gets to influence the United Nations officials, or maybe even buy them out when the United States decides to stop engaging and sit at the sidelines.
And not just the United Nations agencies, China is hijacking the global narrative everywhere because the United States is refusing to engage itself deeply in the politics of these organisations. Case in point being the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which stands compromised to China because the United States doesn’t want to take the role of leading it.
Ever since Trump came to power, he remained critical of the United States accusing it of bias and ultimately the appellate body of WTO, which used to be described as the Supreme Court of World Trade, ceased to function from December 11 last year, after the Trump administration pulled out.
Trump thought he would render the WTO redundant with this seemingly bold move, but it didn’t take for him to be proved wrong as a parallel body, known as the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA), came to effect last week, and recently this organisation of 18 countries also announced the inclusion of China as a member.
Till now, the US was the accepted leader of the free trade movement but Trump administration simply backed out of the game and now China being the other superpower which gets to play ‘responsible’ has become the de facto leader of the MPIA.
So, what did Trump gain out of reduced participation in the United Nations and an imprudent attempt to kill the free trade regime at WTO? It has only resulted in China getting to infiltrate its cronies in the United Nations- FAO and WHO being some of the examples.
Today, Trump is crying foul about the way the United Nations is behaving but what was the Trump administration doing when Kevin Moley gauged the ominous signs of a resurgent China? The fact remains that Trump’s impulsive and hasty actions have created a power vacuum at the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies.
As US cedes spaces that it once used to occupy at these organisations, Beijing has shown enough awareness to occupy them. Had Trump not backed out of the battle at the United Nations only because he didn’t like the rules of the game, China wouldn’t have been to hijack it in the first place.
In a post-Cold War world, the world order was supposed to be unipolar, but with its hasty decisions allowing China to take up positions that it doesn’t deserve to, the Pentagon has carved out a bipolar world for itself.
We all know how undemocratic and useless the United Nations has turned out to be, but the United States should be the last country to blame this institution because it was the most actively involved country in its creation. United Nations may be inefficient, but it is the brainchild of the United States itself. Why should Trump desert such bodies? He cannot dismantle this edifice and if he decides to pull out, China will ultimately take over and fill the vacuum.