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US to counter China's 'malign' influence on United Nations, says senior official

·3 min read

Washington will use its leverage in the United Nations to counter China's harmful influence, stem Beijing's strategic grip over UN agencies and build an alliance to investigate the source of Covid-19 and address human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a senior US official told Congress on Wednesday.

"They exert enormous influence in the United Nations, and it's malign ... influence that promotes an authoritarian approach to multilateralism," US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We need to fight that every step of the way."

The US is engaged again in global affairs after years of focusing more exclusively on domestic affairs, an absence that has allowed China and other authoritarian states to gain influence, Thomas-Greenfield said, without mentioning the Trump administration by name.

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Others were not so coy.

"During the last four years, the United States shied away from multilateral engagement, ceding America's historic leadership and damaging our standing with the international community," said Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York and the committee's chairman.

"As a result, China and other countries that do not reflect our nation's values have taken leadership posts at a number of inter-governmental organizations."

Thomas-Greenfield said Washington paying its UN dues was a first step to counter China's growing UN influence, even as Washington pushes for reforms at the 75-year organisation. Beijing has repeatedly chided Washington over its arrears.

The US also needed to recruit young, talented Americans to junior spots in the organisation toward filling more top jobs, she added. Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat, previously oversaw human resources at the State Department involving some 70,000 employees.

China has moved aggressively to boost its influence at the global body, securing top positions for its nationals at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the International Telecommunication Union and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as well as junior spots within the UN Secretariat.

Critics say many of its choices answer to Beijing rather than the UN and bridle at its role on the Human Rights Council, given the estimates that up to 1 million Uygurs have been in "re-education" camps in Xinjiang. The Trump administration pulled the US out of the Council in 2018.

"We are regularly engaging on the genocide issue of the Uygurs and raising that at the Security Council," she told the committee. "I'm also appalled that we have to sit next to some of the world's worst human rights abusers, when we're sitting in the council."

But "many issues would be left unspoken, many human rights violators would get away with, with their actions, if we were not at the table to raise those issues," she added. "We're working to enhance US leadership."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.