By Henrik B.L. Larsen
War on the Rocks
If the COVID-19 pandemic is to have any positive geopolitical impact whatsoever, it should be drawing full attention to China’s attempt to exert control over key institutions at the United Nations. Beijing was willing to exert pressure not only on other countries but also on the World Health Organization to deflect attention away from its own initial mishandling of the crisis. While China delayed releasing its much-needed data about the virus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, applauded the transparency and effectiveness of China’s response. As countries were beginning to close their airspace from flights to and from China, Ghebreyesus openly advised against travel restrictions.
It is damaging to the credibility of the U.N. system that the independence of the World Health Organization could be questioned in dealing with the most serious pandemic in 100 years. Unfortunately, the handling of the COVID-19 crisis is symptomatic for China’s growing effort to lobby and influence some of the key U.N. agencies based in Geneva, Switzerland, apart from the World Health Organization: the Human Rights Council, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the International Telecommunications Union. The consequences of China’s actions are antithetical to Western interests and depart so fundamentally from the United Nations’ original purpose that they can no longer be ignored. Liberal-minded countries around the world need to engage in a dedicated effort to check Beijing’s bid for high-level positions and its redefinition of the global norms for human rights and the use of technology.