China in the United Nations

Published On: November 4, 2021 06:30 AM NPT By: Dinesh Bhattarai

Dinesh Bhattarai

Dinesh Bhattarai

Dinesh Bhattarai, former diplomat and foreign policy expert, has served as the foreign affairs adviser of former prime ministers Sher Bahadur Deuba and Sushil Koirala.

China now heads four of the UN’s 15 Specialized Agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Telecommunication Union, United Nations Industrial Development, and International Civil Aviation Organization. As the US suspended funding to the WHO in 2020, China promised $2 billion to fight the pandemic. The Economist writes “any retreat by America from global leadership is an opportunity for China.”

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of China’s lawful seat in the United Nations. It was on October 25, 1971, that  the world witnessed overwhelming  votes at the  UN General Assembly in favour of the Resolution 2758 that restored China’s lawful seat. Thanks to the continued common and constant efforts of smaller nations, and realization by great powers. 

On October 1, 1949, the Communist Party-controlled mainland China and Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed to the world that “this government is the sole legal government representing the entire people of the People’s Republic of China.” Chiang Kai-shek, after losing a protracted civil war, retreated to the island of Taiwan. When China was divided between communist guerrillas led by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party and Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-shek, the US gave military assistance to the Nationalists. Barbara W Tuchman, in her book Notes from China,(2017, p. 57), writes “in  1945,  Mao and Chou Enlai, for a working relationship with the United States, offered to come to Washington to talk in person with President Roosevelt, [but] the United States made no response to the overture.”   

The US retained diplomatic ties with the nationalists-led Republic of China and refused to recognize the newly-declared People’s Republic of China.  In the 1950s and 1960s, as Professor at Duke University, Bruce W Jentleson in his book The Peacemakers: Leadership, writes: Americans did not call that large country with lots of people over Asia “China” or the “People’s Republic of China”: it was “Red China.”  

Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai sent a number of telegrams  to the United Nations “affirming that the People’s Republic of China’ was the sole legal government representing the Chinese people and demanding that its designated representative be allowed to take part in the work of the United Nations and its agencies and that the United Nations expel  the representatives of the so-called Republic of China who had absolutely no right to represent China.” However, these demands went unheeded. China,  deprived of its lawful seat in the United Nations,  termed it  a violation of the UN Charter, therefore as irrational and unlawful. Depriving the Chinese people of their rights in no way could change the fact and reality of new China.  

Referring to the representation of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations, Nepal’s  Prime Minister BP Koirala, while addressing the 15thUN General Assembly on  September 29, 1960, made a forceful plea to accept the People’s Republic of China as a respected member. He said, “In our opinion, the United Nations can neither become universal nor can it reflect the political realities existing in the world today until the People's Republic of China is given its rightful place in the Organization. The United Nations will not be able to fulfill effectively some of its most important purposes and functions until the People's Republic of China is brought in.” Reminding world leaders that the United Nations Charter speaks of ' the peoples of the United Nations', Prime Minister Koirala further said, the world body “cannot be fully representative of the peoples of the world when 630 million people have been deprived of the beneficent and constructive influences of the various activities of the United Nations.”  He said questions like this were of vital importance “to the effectiveness and growth of the United Nations itself, adding that greater imagination and foresight are needed than the United Nations has thus far shown.” Nepal’s forceful statement  helped to contribute toward creating a pro-China momentum inside the United Nations and outside. 

In 1967, Richard Nixon, proposing to reach out to China, wrote in Foreign Affairs, “It was unwise to leave the world’s largest country out of the international mainstream for too long.” Stephen Sestanovich,  George F Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations,  writes when US national security adviser Henry Kissinger arrived in Beijing  in July 1971, he told his host Zhou Enlai, “Reality has brought us together, and we believe that “reality will shape our future.” In October, the UN restored the lawful seat to China. 

The US Representatives to the United Nations acknowledged  that “no one could escape the fact that the votes which have just been cast do, in fact, represent the views of the majority of the UN members.” The Resolution considered Taiwan “for all purposes to be an integral part of the People’s Republic of China.” Washington acknowledged “the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of  China.”  

Nepal consistently held the view that without China’s representation, the United Nations would not be able to live up to its name, and that without its active and constructive role, there could be no solution to the burning issues of disarmament, international security and peace, transnational issues like pandemic, climate change, cybersecurity  and terrorism. Several countries saw the restoration of the Chinese representation as “the dawn of a new international balance.” 

Qiao Guanhua of the  Chinese Delegation, while expressing heartfelt thanks of the Chinese Government and people to the many UN members which had upheld principles and justice and made unremitting and effective efforts for the restoration of China’s lawful seat in the United Nations, explained his country’s foreign policy before the UN General Assembly, is to “oppose to big nations bullying small ones or strong nations bullying weak ones. All countries, big and small should be equal and the Five Principles guiding the relations between countries. The affairs of a given country must be handled by its own people and the affairs of the United Nations must be jointly handled by all its member states.” 

Over the years,  China has been advocating a just, rule-based global order. It has portrayed itself as a champion of multilateralism and talked of taking “an active part in leading the reform of the global governance system.” In Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s words, “China has become the most active and positive force in global governance.” With China’s apparent departure from decades-long logic of “hide and bide” in 2017, President Xi found China in a “period of strategic opportunity.” He told the 19th Party National Congress, “It is time for us to take the center stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind.” 

China’s engagements with the UN are growing. It  is now the second biggest contributor to both the general and peacekeeping budgets. Beijing has given large quantities of  medicines and vaccines to the developing  countries in difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its influence in UN structure and development is increasing. China now heads four of the UN’s 15 Specialized Agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Telecommunication Union, United Nations Industrial Development, and International Civil Aviation Organization. As the US suspended funding to the WHO in 2020, China promised $2 billion to fight the pandemic. The Economist writes “any retreat by America from global leadership is an opportunity for China.” 

China has also  been building channels of influence outside the institutions that were set up in the aftermath of post-World War II. China has set up Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and participates in BRICS that has  Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as members. Similarly, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been at work with China as a dominant power to name a few.  

China has also emerged as the largest innovator in terms of intellectual property registration. The  Belt and Road initiative, described as “the project of the century,”  stands as a towering expression of China’s growing economic might and geopolitical ambitions. Beijing is fast emerging into a global superpower that Rush Doshi, currently Director for China in the Biden Administration’s National Security Council, says, could “displace American order.”  

Nepal is one of the 14 neighbors of China. Neighbours occupy a crucial place in China’s strategic management. Tibet remains one of its core security concerns. The location of Nepal prominently figures in the Chinese foreign policy, as China is concerned about the possible plays by Western powers on the Tibet issue from the Nepali soil. Nepal remains unequivocally committed to the One China Policy.   Kathmandu’s  long-standing position has been not to allow its soil to be used for any hostile activities against its neighbors. 

Nepal has immense opportunities to benefit from the economic dynamism in the neighborhood. Nepal and China, by adhering to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, have set “a model of harmonious coexistence between countries of different size and social system.” To solidify further the structure of these relations for mutual benefit, it is necessary for both the countries to have commitments implemented thoroughly and sincerely. Nepal needs to do its homework properly, and thoroughly with clarity on what it wants and do better preparation to seize emerging opportunities in the neighborhood. A peaceful, stable, democratic, and prosperous Nepal is in the interest of its neighbors - India and China - and a stabilizing force for the entire world. 


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