Ever since President Joe Biden took office, the world has been paying close attention to his administration’s policy toward China. After months of back-and-forth efforts, painstaking planning and negotiations with allies, the Biden administration has laid the groundwork to rally democratic alliances to its side in order to compete with autocratic China on the global stage. As declared by Kurt Campbell, National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, “the period that was broadly described as engagement (with Beijing) has come to an end.”
It is good news that the U.S. works closely with allies to prove to the world that democracy can still prevail against the challenges of our times and deliver for the needs of the people. However, after many decades of diplomatic efforts to bring China into democratic norms and reduce the threat posed by communism, we are late awakening to the fact that these efforts are unrealistic — unfortunately.
Years of differing self-interest, whether it be economic or aligning ideologies among different countries, has advanced China’s campaign to secure more power at international organizations and to manage establishing the rules and norms that will guide many aspects of our lives, economies and security for generations.
Currently, four out of 15 United Nations and U.N.-affiliated agencies are led by Chinese representatives, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Telecommunication Union, Food and Agriculture Organization and U.N. Industrial Development Organization, which puts Beijing in an influential position to shape development and implementation of global standards.
China’s influence extends far beyond its quest for power. It has also wielded its participation as diplomatic leverage to sway the international system in its direction. This ranges from marginalizing Taiwan, discouraging the world’s attention to the repression of human rights of the Uighur ethnic groups in Xinjian and Hong Kong, retaliating against countries at odds with its so-called core interests, and even covering up and then preventing a thorough investigation of the origins of the COVID-19 virus.
China’s growing clout undoubtedly has made U.N. bodies more systematically Chinese. No wonder Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso openly criticized that the World Health Organization should be renamed as the “Chinese Health Organization” as he accused the global body of toeing the China line on the pandemic.
With the COVID-19 pandemic presenting unprecedented stress testing democracies, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is pursuing a strategy to advance autocratic values as opposed to democratic values on the global stage. Before it is too late, democratic allies and partners should put aside their differences and unify in reversing the expansion of authoritarianism. A good start is the proposed European Union-U.S. Trade and Technology Council (TTC), where Washington and Brussels are expected to detail how they will work together to promote technologies to counter China’s antidemocratic standards and practices, as well as to maintain their advantages in economic growth.
Taiwan is a reliable and trusted partner of this newly emerging “tech-alliance” and upholds the core values of freedom, democracy and rule of law. For several decades, the U.S. and Taiwan have maintained close cooperation in many areas, including semiconductor, information technology and advanced materials.
However, under pressure from China, the U.N. and its specialized agencies continue to reject Taiwan. As China emerges as a major player in setting technical standards for strategic technologies to cement its grip on power, Taiwan’s prowess in high-tech manufacturing, skilled human resources and data privacy could play a critical role in halting China’s digital authoritarian advance.
Denying a partner that has the ability to contribute is a loss to the world as we seek to protect our democracies and recover together from the COVID-19 crisis. Now it’s time for the world’s democracies at the U.N. to bring Taiwan to the table, which would give democracies a boost in their bid to push back China’s influence.