China’s growing influence inside the United Nations is inevitable, stemming from President Xi Jinping’s more assertive foreign policy and the fact that China’s assessed contributions to the world body are now second only to those of the United States. Traditionally focused on the U.N.’s development activities, China now flexes its muscles in the heart of the U.N., its peace and security work. The Chinese-Russian tactical alignment in the U.N. Security Council challenges protection of human rights and humanitarian access, demonstrated in July 2020 when China and Russia vetoed two resolutions regarding Syria and both blocked the appointment of a French national as special envoy for Sudan.
Yet the fears that China is changing the United Nations from within seem if not overblown, at least premature. Whatever its ambitions, China has not replaced the United States as the U.N.’s most powerful member state. The U.N. can still be a force multiplier for the values and interests of the United States, but only if Washington now competes for influence rather than assume automatic U.N. deference. The U.N. can be characterized as “home turf” for the United States, but walking off the field will facilitate China moving in to fill the vacuum.