July 21, 2020 | Washington Examiner

Another way UN corruption is empowering China

July 21, 2020 | Washington Examiner

Another way UN corruption is empowering China

There’s a new cop on the corruption beat at the United Nations: the Chinese Communist Party. China this month quietly ascended to the U.N.’s top oversight panel in a move that should prompt the United States and other U.N. investors to reevaluate how they give their money.

Last November, U.N. member states voted 115-78 to give China a place on the U.N. Board of Auditors. People in the U.S. barely noticed, but Chinese government media celebrated the victory. Only a few months later, as China sought to cover up its reckless mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, people began to recognize the danger of China having so many U.N. agencies in its pocket.

President Trump, of course, has publicly shamed and suspended funding to the World Health Organization for facilitating a Chinese cover-up of COVID-19’s origins. But China’s tentacles are reaching far beyond the WHO, with Beijing aiming for leadership roles and key staff positions across the U.N. system.

The State Department, meanwhile, has appointed a special envoy to counter China’s exploitation of U.N. agencies, but the envoy faces an uphill battle. Beijing knows the value of manipulating obscure agencies whose workings only a handful of people understand.

For example, China markets Huawei’s 5G network by leveraging its leadership of the International Telecommunication Union, while its perch at the Food and Agriculture Organization is used to benefit Chinese agribusiness. China is also using its role at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization to promote its Belt and Road Initiative by marketing and co-sponsoring its projects.

Most people will scratch their heads, wondering how and why the U.N. would let China, with its own record of corruption, conduct financial oversight across its agencies. But U.N. observers know that Turtle Bay is an upside-down parallel universe where a Marxist-Leninist regime that confines a million Uighur Muslims to internment camps can also win a place on a U.N. human rights panel overseeing religious freedom.

Chinese membership on the Board of Auditors won’t mean Beijing has a free pass to abuse the U.N. system. Two other countries, Germany and Chile, will sit with China on the panel. The U.N. secretary-general also has his own internal auditing staff. But China will have enormous influence to set standards, steer resources, access records, and undermine accountability.

If the U.S. plans to keep bankrolling the U.N., taxpayers are at least entitled to an independent, China-free audit of any U.N. agency that needs one. What stands in the way of this commonsense idea is something known as the “single-audit principle,” which means only the U.N. can audit a U.N. organization. For example, even if the U.S. wanted to pay for an independent audit of the WHO by a top global accounting firm, the single-audit principle dictates that America’s request be denied. Only the U.N. has the right to see the books of a U.N. agency — the U.N.’s largest investor be damned.

Congress found this out the hard way. In 2007, Congress provided $2 million to fund a Government Accountability Office audit of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. In particular, Congress wanted to know exactly how UNRWA was spending money out of an account titled “cash assistance,” which UNRWA’s leadership had acknowledged could be used to give de facto reward payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. UNRWA denied GAO access to its financial records, citing the single-audit principle.

With China now assuming oversight of U.N. operations, America should demand a change. The problem is that only the U.N. General Assembly — the body consisting of all 193 member states — can change the rules.

Trump has not been shy about defunding U.N. agencies when evidence of mismanagement or corruption emerges as the WHO and UNRWA can attest. Nor has Congress, which ordered the withholding of funds for the Chinese-led International Civil Aviation Organization after it covered up a Chinese cyberattack.

Organizations that refuse U.S. requests for independent audits should lose their taxpayer funding, too. The threat alone may be enough to force the General Assembly to change the rules, so Beijing won’t be able to cook the books so easily.

Richard Goldberg, a former National Security Council official and founding staff director of the House U.S.-China Working Group, is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Richard on Twitter @rich_goldberg.

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