May you live in interesting times…

From the beginning, the number one government to watch in terms of the next UNSG selection has been China. Its growth as a regional power, as well as on the global stage has coincided nicely with what is considered Asia’s “turn” at the helm of the UN. As I and others have stated on previous occasions, the nominee will be that diplomat (by any definition) who can earn the support of both Beijing and Washington.

But China’s role in the selection process won’t be a cakewalk. For precisely the same reasons that it’s role is so important, the difficulties it faces will be challenging.

Yun Tang, with the World Affairs Council in Washington, DC, points out three specific factors associated with the UNSG selection that could complicate China’s global and regional leadership.

First, consolidating Asian countries on the issue. Presumably, Beijing has to break a lot of diplomatic impasses in mediating for a common Asian candidate, given the political complication of the vast continent. Nevertheless, if a consensus could not be reached, Asia’s chance might be in danger. Furthermore, if China fails to help deliver an Asian to the post, its influence in Asia will unquestionably suffer a setback.

Second, dealing with the US. To a certain extent, the selection of the next UN secretary-general is a test for China-US relations, putting on trial their mutual trust and willingness to cooperate in world affairs. Though some tensions remain, China-US relations are presently in a stable condition. In the next few months, if there is no serious confrontation between China and the US on Iran and on the upcoming UN budgetary dispute, it should not be very difficult for the two countries to find common ground regarding the nomination for secretary-general.

Third, addressing the concerns of other UN members. Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock wrote in mid- February to all UN members, proposing more transparency and broader member-state involvement in choosing Annan’s successor. Recently, some members also called for a greater role of the General Assembly in the recruitment, suggesting that the Security Council forward more than one candidate for approval. With all these developments as background, people will watch carefully to see whether Beijing can contribute to make the selection as open and fair as possible while vigorously pushing for a UN chief from Asia.

For those involved in Chinese or Asian affairs studies, this will be very important process to watch, not only from the global perspective, but also in terms of China’s bilateral affairs in the region.

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