Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addresses the UN General Assembly (Li Tao)
The United Nations (UN) is never far from the public eye, whether it is being praised for providing humanitarian aid in disaster-hit regions or criticized for not doing enough to resolve ongoing conflicts. More recently the organization made headlines with the process of passing its leadership baton when the current term of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ends in January next year.
The appointment of Portugal's former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the next UN secretary general is by all accounts a popular choice, but going forward backing of the entire assembly over his tenure in office is vital.
"He will need the firm support of the Security Council as well as the wider membership of the United Nations to help him fulfil his mandate in these challenging times," said former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
It is in these very challenging times that China has been playing an increasingly important role in supporting the UN, especially in the 21st century.
"As the largest developing country, China represents the interests of a large number of developing and least developed countries," said Peng Gang, Director of the Economic Research Center for Developing Countries at the Renmin University of China. "Also, as a country that actively participates in world economic development and contributes to the global governance and international rules, China shares its experience in this regard, which has been widely recognized by the international community, including the developed countries like those in Europe and America," he said.
China is one of the founding members of the UN, however its seat was illegally occupied by the Taiwan authority until China resumed its legal seat in 1971.
In the 45 years that followed, China's role has shifted from being marginal to more central, according to Shi Chenxia, Assistant Researcher at Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
This marginal role in the first two decades was because China's low level of economic development restricted its ability to participate in international affairs under the UN framework. During this period, China saw the UN as a place to state its political appeals and fight against hegemony. "Thus, China only participated in part of the activities of the UN at that time," said Shi.
China vows to increase its use of clean energy ( Zhang Zhen)
After the mid-1990s and the advent of China's rapid development, its UN role began to change and the country's participation in UN programs became more holistic, according to Zheng Qirong, Vice President of the China Foreign Affairs University.
One specific area where China has been active is UN peacekeeping missions. In 1990, a team of five Chinese military observers were sent to the Middle East, followed two years later by Chinese peacekeeping troops being deployed in Cambodia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission there at the time.
UN statistics show that China currently has about 3,000 peacekeepers in UN global peacekeeping missions, including operations in South Sudan, Mali and Lebanon. This makes China the largest troop contributor among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the other four are the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia). In terms of financial support, China's contribution of 10.2 percent of the UN peacekeeping costs from 2016-18 is only surpassed by the United States.
Speaking at a peacekeeping summit at the UN Headquarters in New York in September last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China would take the lead to set up a permanent peacekeeping police squad and would build a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops. In addition, China is also to actively consider the UN's request of sending more engineering, transportation and medical personnel to join peacekeeping missions, train 2,000 foreign peacekeepers and carry out 10 mine-sweeping assistance programs by 2020.
"All these [programs] suggest that China is seeking to be a globally responsible actor and even operate in challenging environments," said George N. Tzogopoulos, Research Associate at the European Council of Foreign Relations.
But China's contribution to global stability is far more than its contribution of peacekeeping troops. The country actively participated in negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula hosting six rounds of Six-Party Talks in this regard, making active contributions to the peace process on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia. In addition, China played a constructive role in talks on the Iranian nuclear issue for 12 years, according to Zheng.
Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan (Pan Siwei)
Promoting sustainable development
Sustainable development is a central tenet of China's economy and the country is open to sharing its experience internationally by actively participating in global governance.
"Against the backdrop of sluggish global economic development, China remains the fastest growing economy, which has provided the preconditions and basis for China to contribute to global governance," said Peng, adding that poverty is the root cause of global instability and China's track record proves that it has the expertise and capacity to alleviate poverty.
"China is the world's most populous country with a large number of people living in poverty. If China cannot realize its goal of alleviation and eradication of poverty, it is impossible for the UN to realize its [poverty eradication] goals," said Peng.
Statistics show that during the 38 years after China's reform and opening up, more than 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty. The country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) indicates that it will eradicate poverty countrywide by 2020.
According to Peng, from 2000, when the UN set eight Millennium Goals to the formulation and implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, China has played an important role in these initiatives. In addition, China included the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into its 13th Five-Year Plan, which was adopted early this year.
The Hangzhou G20 Summit held in early September also adopted the Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. "China has made great contribution to achieving this," said Peng. The Chinese Government was among the first to adopt and release the country's National Plan on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Chinese leaders are great advocates of this process. At the UN Sustainable Development Summit held in September last year, President Xi delivered a speech entitled "Toward Win-win Partnership for Sustainable Development," expounding China's principles and position as well as its readiness to advance the agenda for sustainable development.
In the same vein, in September this year Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered a statement entitled "Work for a World of Peace, Stability and Sustainable Development" at the General Debate of the 71st Session of UN General Assembly, focusing on the importance of the world sustainable development.
"China knows just how much other developing countries desire to achieve development and root out poverty, and has rendered them support and assistance to the best of its ability," said Li.
This is borne out by the more than 400 billion yuan ($60 billion) provided by China by the end of 2015 to 166 countries and international and regional organizations and training to more than 12 million professionals in various sectors from other developing countries. Li noted that going forward China will strengthen cooperation with other developing countries, and will do whatever possible to help African countries and less developed countries for the purpose of achieving common development and common prosperity.
China is also an active participant in promoting green development and protecting the environment under the UN framework. On September 3, before the opening of the Hangzhou G20
Summit, the Chinese Government became one of the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement, an agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.
"This has set a good example for developing green economies," said Zhang Lili, Professor at the China Foreign Affairs University.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris last year, President Xi pledged that China would, on the basis of technological and institutional innovation, adopt new policy measures to improve the industrial mix, build low-carbon energy systems, develop green buildings and low-carbon transportation, and build a nationwide carbon emission trading market so as to foster a new pattern of modernization featuring harmony between man and nature.
China has pledged, by 2030, to reduce carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent over the 2005 level, raise the proportion of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to about 20 percent and increase its forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels. "This requires strenuous efforts, but we have confidence and resolve to fulfill our commitments," said Xi.
An important advocate for UN reform, China is at the forefront of the push to increase representation of developing countries, believing this should be given priority. With developing countries accounting for more than two thirds of the UN membership, they are grossly under-represented in the Security Council - a situation which must be reversed.
In its Position Paper issued at the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly in September this year, China vowed to support UN reform, especially reforms to the Security Council so as to increase the voice of developing countries in international affairs.
"The reform should be an all-round process for balanced progress on security, development and human rights. In particular, positive results should be achieved in development, as it concerns the vital interests of developing countries," the paper said.
During the more than 70 years since the UN was established, the number of its members has grown dramatically from 51 in 1945 to 193 today. Most of the increased membership is developing countries, including 54 from Africa.
"While the UN Security Council [is] reviewing issues related to developing countries, we should have developing countries, especially those from Africa, play bigger roles in the Security Council," said Wu Haitao, Deputy Representative of China to the United Nations in the UN Headquarters in New York in May.
According to Wu, UN reform should facilitate more countries, especially small and medium-sized countries, to enter the Security Council in turn.