China’s Role in the United Nations: Past, Present, and Future

Ambassador Liu Jieyi Delivers McGill Lecture in International Studies

China’s burgeoning economy has helped to transform this nation into a major global player on multiple fronts, and, on April 1, a captivated audience listened to his Excellency Liu Jieyi, the ambassador of China to the United Nations, deliver the annual McGill Lecture in International Studies on the role of China in the United Nations (U.N.). The event was co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Connecticut and United Technologies Corporation.

Liu described how the U.N. was founded 70 years ago in October 1945, following the end of World War II. At its inception, the U.N. had 51 member states; today, there are 193. Liu reflected on the U.N.’s role in the past, shared its current priorities, and looked toward “chartering a future to seek collective solutions to problems they’re facing today.”

Ambassador Liu Jieyi delivers the annual Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III ’63 Lecture in International Studies. Photo by John Atashian.
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 Liu noted that the global community had dramatically changed over time and that the following four trends took place in the world over the past 20 years or so:

1.    Decolonization. The birth of many new nations, which began in the 1950s, has changed the global landscape and the size of the U.N. This resulted in the need to reform the U.N., including the U.N. Security Council.

2.    The end of the Cold War. This brought an end to the superpower nuclear arms race, MAD (mutually assured destruction), and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. In the past, many threats were between states. Today, they’re between states and non-states entities, in the form of nontraditional security challenges.

3.    Multi-polarization. The collective rise of developing countries, with China gaining strength while India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and many others are playing critical roles in world affairs. The European Union is playing a bigger role due to its enlargement and integration over time. Liu noted that Asia and Africa are the two fastest growing regions in the world, enjoying an average of 5 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

4.    Globalization. Liu discussed the free flow of finance, trade, people-to-people interchange, and the growth of the Internet. He cautioned that with opportunity come challenges, which include pandemic diseases, terrorism, trans-boundary crimes, economic uncertainty, and climate change.

Liu also discussed the greater interdependence in the world and how countries shouldn’t be isolated. “Security is indivisible,” he said, and “no country can build its security on the insecurity of others.” He went on to stress the importance of an international community for partnership. “There are nearly 200 countries in the world,” said Liu. “The only way to get things done is for everyone to chip in and foster a rule-based international framework. We need a new paradigm of international relations based on win-win cooperation.”

As the U.N. celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, Liu touted the importance of the organization. “From space to seabed, from economics to the environment, the U.N. has all topical issues on its agenda,” he said. Liu sees the U.N. as a critical platform for making collective decisions. However, he also is aware of the criticism of the organization. “Some say that the U.N. is long on documents and short on actions and solutions,” said Liu. “However, there is no alternative to the U.N. It is the most representative and authoritative intergovernmental organization. It is as good as its members. To build a better world, we need to make the U.N. a more effective organization collectively. China believes that common problems need common solutions.”

According to Liu, China is the sixth largest contributor to the U.N. budget. He added that among the P5 (permanent members of the U.N. Security Council), which are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, China is the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations. He also mentioned that China is a strong supporter of maintaining the Purposes and Principles of the Charter of the U.N. and is a party to more than 5,000 international treaties.

“China is committed to strengthening norms of international law,” said Liu. “We must foster win-win cooperation in international relations. We must ensure mutual respect and equality among nations. We must see that diversity of civilizations is strength and a source of progress. In the backdrop of globalization, we need a mutual learning process between civilizations and to work together.”

Liu also touched on China’s crucial role in shaping the U.N. Post-2015 Development Agenda and in enhancing the U.N.’s role on the dual tracks of peace and development.

Liu concluded the lecture with a Q&A session with the audience. Before he left the podium, he gave the attendees some sage advice: “If you want to be rich and prosperous, you’d build a road, because connectivity is important.”

Liu is one of China’s top experts on U.N. issues, arms control, and U.S.-China relations. Liu graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University and joined China’s Foreign Service in 1987. He has served as the director-general of the Department of International Organizations and Conferences, the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, and the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He previously was the assistant minister and vice minister of foreign affairs, as well as vice minister of the Ministry of International Liaison. He has twice served as president of the U.N. Security Council.

The McGill International Studies Fund was established in 1996 with a gift from Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III ’63. The gift helped secure a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The fund supports the appointment of visiting humanities scholars, primarily international scholars, in the academic areas of international studies that include African studies, Asian studies, Latin American studies, Middle Eastern studies, global studies, and Russian and Eurasian studies.

Charles H. McGill III ’63 is a nationally recognized expert in mergers and acquisitions, as well as corporate strategic planning and restructuring, with significant experience in consumer products, restaurant and food service, and information services. McGill is the founding partner of Sagamore Partners, an acquisitions adviser. Previously, he was a senior executive of Fortune Brands, Dun & Bradstreet, and the Pillsbury Company. McGill is a former member of the Trinity College Board of Trustees and its Board of Fellows. He received the College’s Alumni Medal for Excellence in 1993. The McGills are the parents of a 1994 Trinity graduate.

Written by Julia S. Chianelli