July 8, 2020 | Newsweek

Post-COVID, Let’s Leverage International Organizations to Slow Down China

July 8, 2020 | Newsweek

Post-COVID, Let’s Leverage International Organizations to Slow Down China

In a sign that not all hope has been lost in combating China’s efforts to co-opt international organizations (IO), Beijing recently suffered a bruising defeat at the hands of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in its quest to secure market economy status. This little-noticed, de facto ruling represents a major setback for China’s economic aspirations, and serves as an important reminder that IOs can, in fact, be leveraged to slow down China while the United States and its allies speed up their efforts to address Beijing’s increasingly hostile behavior.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is rarely silent in the wake of a diplomatic upset, often resorting to bellicose rhetoric and empty threats in order to voice its outrage. The lack of a CCP response on this matter, however, belies just how devastating Beijing likely views the ramifications of the WTO ruling’s. Securing market economy status would have given China a stronger footing vis-à-vis other commercial partners, while limiting those partners’ ability to retaliate over perceived Chinese trade violations.

The roots of this latest WTO dispute were planted in 2016, when the European Union accused China of flooding its markets with low-priced exports. Unable to defend its predatory behavior, China quietly threw in the towel last week and conceded its case. These developments also bode well for the United States, which has a nearly identical dispute pending against China.

The CCP has a history of flouting international rulings, particularly those at odds with its illegal territorial expansion throughout the South China Sea. Overall, China has largely avoided tangible consequences for its procedural and legal disobedience, opting instead to intimidate opposing claimants and rivals by flexing its geoeconomic muscles. China’s malign behavior has also occurred within the context of U.S. withdrawals from the United Nations Human Rights Council and UNESCO, as well as recent threats to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). In each case, the Trump administration has argued that these organizations were plagued by ineffective bureaucracies, corrupt leadership and outdated regulatory frameworks.

This recent WTO win highlights how we should endeavor to make these imperfect IOs work for the free world once again, if for little more than to expose China’s illegal activities, tarnish Beijing’s image and systematically frustrate President Xi Jinping’s global ambitions. Leveraging IOs to throw roadblocks in China’s path also provides the West with an opportunity to align strategies and devise upgraded toolkits that can be employed to levy real-world consequences, however small, on Beijing.

Rather than focus solely on IO reform, though, the United States and its allies should use this post-COVID moment to immediately challenge China on issues that will engender support from other countries and highlight China’s violations of international law and human rights abuses.

China’s efforts to exercise control outside of its border are matched only by its willingness to spurn human rights at home. Just last week, China charged two Canadian businessmen with espionage to pressure Ottawa into releasing Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is facing extradition to the United States. Dozens of other foreigners, including Americans, are also subject to these outlandish detentions, having been reduced to little more than geopolitical hostages.

Applying exit bans in this manner is a clear violation of international law—namely, Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Having failed to resolve this matter privately, Washington should coordinate with like-minded governments to launch formal disputes at the International Court of Justice, which is stacked with representatives from the United States and its allies, as well as at the United Nations Human Rights Council. To further ratchet up the pressure, the Trump administration should include exit bans on the upcoming G7 agenda and signal its support for draft, bipartisan legislation addressing these bans if Beijing refuses to back down.

Similarly, as experts seek to improve global health standards, the United States should demand Taiwan’s entry into the WHO as part of any reform effort, citing Taipei’s pandemic response as a model for other countries to emulate. Leveraging its role as the WHO’s top funder, the U.S. is well-positioned to undermine China’s efforts to diplomatically isolate Taiwan. Washington, after all, is simultaneously pursuing investigations into the Chinese government’s concealment of information about the virus and revelations regarding the WHO director-general‘s ties to the Chinese regime.

Lastly, America should collaborate with partners in the Indo-Pacific and Africa to end China’s illegal, under-reported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, which have devastated the environment and jeopardized the livelihoods of millions. IUU fishing is also linked to other illegal activities, including human trafficking and drug smuggling.

On this front, there is significant evidence that China has not complied with rules or regulations for fishery management and conservation. In addition to aggressively pursuing this issue at the WTO and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the administration should build upon Executive Order 13773, which prioritizes addressing transnational criminal activities, by recognizing IUU fishing as a national security threat. Washington should also better leverage the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative to enforce fisheries laws and enhance regional security.

China’s COVID-19 deceptions foreshadow a world in which Beijing’s corruptive values reign supreme. In today’s IO landscape, it’s up to the U.S. to remind the world what it stands for—and why the current battle of ideas with the CCP has real-world consequences.

Craig Singleton, a former U.S. diplomat and national security expert, is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). FDD is a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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