Harvey Dzodin: UN at 75: The choice is clear

September 27 , 2020

By Harvey Dzodin,a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization(CCG).


New Yorkers love the picture-perfect weather this time of year, but usually dread the gridlocked traffic as heads of state and rulers gather at the United Nations headquarters for its annual meeting.

Not this autumn, however, as the COVID-19 global pandemic has turned everything upside down forcing the 75th anniversary of the UN’s founding to be held almost exclusively online. For me, two speeches at the commemoration personify the tailwinds and headwinds that face the world body as it now heads toward its centennial.

Since becoming the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping has been the constant advocate for globalization, multilateralism and win-win cooperation as China resumes its historic role as a global power. His speech on Monday was a clarion call reaffirming China’s position.

Reiterating his remarks in 2017 at the World Economic Forum at Davos and at the United Nations Office in Geneva and elsewhere, President Xi challenged UN members to reaffirm their commitment to multilateralism and to “work to promote a community with a shared future for mankind”.

He firmly rejected unilateralism and Cold War mentalities as dead ends and declared that “what we need to do is to replace conflict with dialogue, coercion with consultation and zero-sum with win-win”.

“Unilateralism is a dead end,” he said. “No country has the right to dominate global affairs, control the destiny of others or keep advantages in development all to itself. Even less should one be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world.”

President Xi honored the UN with his virtual presence as did other world leaders, and in so doing paid tribute to the world body that has helped prevent World War III, and with it, the end of civilization as we know it. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “never in modern history have we gone so many years without a military confrontation between the major powers.”

Sadly, one country, mine, the United States took a different tack. While President Trump was scheduled to speak, which meant merely setting up a camera, microphone and teleprompter in his office, he sent a diplomat, the acting US deputy permanent representative to the UN. In so doing, he dishonored the organization which the US helped found in the ashes of World War II in 1945 and has, until recently, actively helped lead. Anyone who knows anything about the symbolism of diplomacy knows that this is nothing less than a monumental slap in the face.

The diplomat, however, represented Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo perfectly as she also played fast and loose with the truth. For example, she said that the US has been “the UN’s largest and most reliable funder for all of its 75 years”. Nothing could be further from the truth; the US has a long history of being the UN’s leading deadbeat nation, not making its contributions in a timely manner. Currently, the US is in arrears of over one billion dollars for its regular contribution and owes more than $2.6 billion for active peacekeeping missions. By contrast, China is fully paid up.

In comparing the speeches of China and the US, both countries agree that the UN needs a remake. Scratch below the surface, however, and their approaches are polar opposites.

The US currently chooses to take the hegemonic low road of “my way, or the highway” such as backing out of its UN commitments, key among which is leaving what the White House has called the “corrupt” World Health Organization at the very time when its funding and participation are most needed to conquer the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent future ones that scientists tell us are inevitable. Instead of cooperation, it’s “America first”, the world last.

President Xi’s remarks were about strengthening the UN, not gutting it. As he said, “Unilateralism is a dead end. All need to follow the approach of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. All need to come together to uphold universal security, share the fruits of development, and jointly decide on the future of the world.”

Despite the lovely weather over Manhattan’s Turtle Bay, where the UN is headquartered, globally the storm clouds of Cold War 2.0 have been gathering. The world is at the crossroads. Which road we choose will literally determine if we go forward together and reach the UN centennial in 2045, or that we don’t. To me, the choice is clear.

From China Daily, 2020-9-27

Keyword Harvey Dzodin