GZERO Media logo

Is Beijing Eating Washington’s Lunch at the UN?

Is Beijing Eating Washington’s Lunch at the UN?

Two of US President Donald Trump's least favorite things in the wider world these days are the United Nations, which he sees as an expensive nuisance, and China, which he views as a major rival. But in neglecting one, he might be helping the other.


The Trump administration said it will cut back on US funding for the UN, in part because Trump – like many conservatives in Washington – sees it as an inefficient, and in some ways illegitimate, encroachment on America's ability to do what it wants in the world. In today's speech at the UN General Assembly, he'll likely reiterate these themes.

China sees things differently. The Chinese leadership views the UN as an important vehicle for expanding its global economic and strategic role, particularly in the developing countries that depend most on the UN's services.

That's why Beijing is now the second largest contributor to the UN budget, accounting for 12 percent of the organization's funding, up from just 1 percent 20 years ago. China is also the number two financial supporter of peacekeeping operations, and when it comes to sending actual personnel, Beijing's 2,500 peacekeepers are more than the other four permanent members of the Security Council combined (that's the US, France, the UK, and Russia.) For perspective, in 1990, China offered up just five troops.

China has also succeeded in getting its officials elected or appointed to a number of important UN positions overseeing global economic, technology, and climate issues. It has also been working hard to bolster UN support for its trillion dollar Belt and Road initiative, which is financing infrastructure that expands China's commercial ties across the developing world.

It's not as though the US, which is still the largest single contributor to UN budgets, isn't aware of this. US officials have been trying to push back against Chinese moves at the UN. But they've confined themselves mainly to opposing specific Chinese appointments (with limited success) or scrubbing Chinese-coined terms from UN documents. In other words, it's a tactical pushback against China's strategic bet on the UN.

Whether the expansion of China's role within the UN is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view. If, like the current US administration, you see China as a "strategic competitor," then ceding so much influence at the UN, whatever the organization's shortcomings, might not be smart. After all, debates about "America First vs Globalism" are not all that interesting to developing countries where China is keeping the peace and building things.

On the other hand, if you think that a country that is poised, as Xi Jinping says, to "take center stage in the world" ought to take a bigger stake and more responsibilities in a cornerstone international institution, then China's larger role at the UN looks like an important step in its maturation as a global power.

What do you think? Is less US and more China at the UN a good thing or a bad one?

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

More Show less

Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

More Show less

In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take