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China failing to fill global leadership void left by US

Beijing’s handing of Hong Kong, Uighurs, South China Sea, Taiwan have hurt its global standing: Reuters

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Beijing is taking a tougher stance on Taiwan under Xi Jinping's leadership. (Twitter image)

Beijing is taking a tougher stance on Taiwan under Xi Jinping's leadership. (Twitter image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China has struggled to capitalize on the global leadership vacuum created by the withdrawal of the U.S. from numerous international organizations, according to a Reuters analysis.

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and the Iran nuclear deal. Washington has also said it will withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) next July, and it has hobbled the World Trade Organization by obstructing appointments to its appeals panel.

Beijing, on the other hand, now has Chinese officials at the helm of four of the 15 UN agencies, while it has also increased its WHO commitment to US$2 billion. China has also created its own multilateral organizations, including the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the report said.

“China has been trying its best to take advantage of the U.S. retreat to advance its own goals,” Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, told Reuters. “Nevertheless, China has had difficulty translating its growing influence into foreign policy success.”

While China claims that it has nearly wiped out COVID-19 in the country and has rushed into human trials for its coronavirus vaccine, its early mishandling of the outbreak has triggered a global backlash. Beijing’s passage of the Hong Kong national security law, its mass detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, its militarization of the disputed South China Sea, and its continued military posturing and threats toward Taiwan have also hurt China’s global standing.

Beijing has had difficulty leveraging the concerns of some U.S. allies against Trump's Washington, with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi (王毅) receiving significant pushback during a five-country visit to Europe over Hong Kong, the detainment of Uighurs, and Wang’s threatening of the Czech Senate president after he visited Taiwan.

“Many see the U.S. retreat from global institutions under Trump as ceding fertile ground to China in this area, but what is striking is how much China’s so-called ‘wolf-warrior’ diplomacy has undercut their ability to take advantage,” Susan Thornton, former U.S. diplomat in the Trump administration, told Reuters.

Despite being the second-largest economy in the world and increasing military strength, China still calls itself a developing country, one that does not want to replace the U.S. Beijing’s diplomatic ties are usually transactional, with a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries and a demand that it gets the same treatment, according to the Reuters report.

“China’s explicit ambitions to ‘lead the reform of the global governance system’ have not been clearly defined,” said Julian Gewirtz, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “These statements are often swaddled in gauzy platitudes — and that means the rest of the world should judge China by its track record rather than its promises.”