The U.S. hoped bringing Beijing into international organizations would change it for the better, but the opposite is happening.
The logic behind America’s “responsible stakeholder” approach was that the best way to keep China from challenging the international order was to demonstrate that it could thrive within it. Encouraging Beijing to expand its role in international organizations — from the United Nations to the alphabet soup of bodies dealing with specific issues from international communications to civil air traffic — was crucial.
But what Xi and other Chinese leaders meant was not what U.S. officials had in mind. Chinese officials had seen how international organizations could be used against it when Beijing found itself attacked in the U.N. after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. So Beijing came to see its role in these institutions as one of protecting and projecting: Protecting the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party at home, while projecting the party’s influence and values abroad.
China’s state press agency has acknowledged this in the candid but oblique language in which the regime often describes its aims: The purpose of participating in global governance is to “create a favorable environment” for the rise of a “great modern socialist country.”
Within the UN Human Rights Council, Chinese representatives have sought to shield Beijing from scrutiny of its own abuses, while also promoting alternative concepts of human rights that stress state sovereignty, social harmony and other characteristics more suitable to autocracy than liberty. Similarly, according to an analysis by Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation, a Chinese head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs used his position to discriminate against people and organizations drawing attention to Beijing’s repression of the Uighur ethnic group in the far western region of Xinjiang. The Chinese government has also sought (sometimes successfully) to position Chinese nationals at the head of Interpol, the World Intellectual Property Organization and other obscure but important bodies that quietly exercise influence in global affairs.
Coronavirus: World Health Organisation reverses course, now supports wearing face masks in public
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