Briefing note: China and the UN Economic and Social Council

A new ISHR report, China and the UN Economic and Social Council provides an overview of the way in which China has extended its representation throughout the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its subsidiary bodies and processes, enabling the Chinese government to significantly influence the UN’s development priorities and cooperation with civil society.

A newly-released report,China and the UN Economic and Social Council, consolidates, for the first time, research by ISHR, other civil society organisations and traditional media. It maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Chinese government representatives, serving in their official or nominally-personal capacities, and government delegations themselves have been appointed or are active across ECOSOC bodies and agencies at the highest levels, the briefing shows. The near-universal coverage ensures that standard-setting and grant-making within these UN bodies are highly aligned with Chinese flagship issues, such as the right to development, ‘counter-terrorism’ and above all, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The research also looks into the ways in which China seeks to act, in concert with other governments, as a gatekeeper to UN access for non-governmental organisations – even those whose work has nothing to do with China’s domestic situation – while at the same time facilitating access for a growing number of organisations aligned with Chinese government and party views.

Finally, the briefing note points to some examples of Chinese government discourse that have been the centre of UN negotiations. On the one hand, the Chinese government has seen success in ensuring that its hallmark turns of phrase become ‘agreed language’, or part of the UN lexicon. On the other, the persistent unwillingness to specify precisely what is meant by such language has driven many delegations to push back on the inclusion of the language, which often has its origins in Chinese Communist Party rhetoric.

The report authors highlight recommendations for steps that every government can take to strengthen the independence and transparency of the ECOSOC system and to ensure that it is ‘fit for purpose’ in pursuing the UN’s objectives of peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights.

Finally, the briefing note also leads to other questions and areas for future inquiry. 

Download the report in English to learn more.

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