Beijing has warned that Washington’s return to the UN’s cultural group is about resisting Chinese influence
China has decried a vote by members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to allow the US to rejoin the group, warning that Washington is likely to stir strife rather than help foster peace and cooperation.
Beijing was among 10 dissenting members as 132 nations voted on Friday to welcome the US back to UNESCO, effective this month. “It’s a great day for UNESCO and for multilateralism,” the body’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, said in a statement. “Building upon the momentum achieved in recent years, our organization is once again moving towards universalism with this return of the United States.”
However, China’s permanent representative to the organization, Yang Jin, told reporters after the vote that the goal of UNESCO member states is to promote peace and cooperation, rather than “resisting the influence of a specific country.” He added that the US should “promote unity within the organization and contribute to cooperation, instead of creating confrontation and division.”
Washington quit UNESCO under then-President Donald Trump at the end of 2018, citing “anti-Israel bias.” Israel and the US stopped paying dues in 2011, after the group voted to include Palestine as a member state. The US also pulled out of UNESCO in 1984 and remained on the sidelines until 2003 because of disagreements over UNESCO’s policies.
The US will fund 22% of UNESCO’s budget and has committed to repay estimated arrears of $619 million over time. The financial shot in the arm will help the group implement its programs, including “actions for Africa and gender equality,” UNESCO said.
China was the largest contributor to UNESCO during the latest US absence from the group. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has framed the decision to return to the organization as a necessary step in Washington’s rivalry with China for global influence. One of his deputies, John Bass, said last month that the move “will help address a critical gap in our global leadership toolkit and capacity, and it will also help us address a key opportunity cost that our absence is creating in our global competition with China.”
Chinese officials have noted that the US quit UNESCO twice and called on Washington to pursue “true multilateralism” and international cooperation. “International organizations are not public parks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last month. “Countries can’t just come and go as they please. More importantly, the US must not view international organizations as places for geopolitical wrestling.”