China has expressed its disapproval of the decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to readmit the United States, indicating that Washington’s return is more about resisting Chinese influence than promoting peace and cooperation. Out of the 142 nations that voted on Friday, Beijing was among the 10 dissenting members. UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azoulay, hailed the decision as a landmark moment for multilateralism, stating that it signifies a return to universalism. However, China’s representative to the organization, Yang Jin, cautioned against using UNESCO as a platform for fostering confrontation and division rather than unity and collaboration.
Chinese officials emphasized that the primary goal of UNESCO member states should be to promote peace and cooperation, not to resist the influence of any particular country. Yang Jin urged the United States to contribute to cooperation within the organization, rather than creating further divisions. Despite China’s opposition, the US was welcomed back to UNESCO, marking the end of a contentious period that began in 2018 when the US, then under the leadership of President Donald Trump, withdrew from the organization, citing “anti-Israel bias.” The US had also previously left UNESCO in 1984 and stayed disengaged until 2003 due to disagreements over the organization’s policies. Additionally, Israel and the US had ceased paying dues in 2011 after UNESCO accepted Palestine as a member state.
As part of its return, the US has committed to funding 22% of UNESCO’s budget and repaying an estimated $619 million in arrears over time. This financial boost will enable UNESCO to implement its programs, including those aimed at promoting gender equality and supporting initiatives in Africa. The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has framed the decision to rejoin UNESCO as a strategic move in the country’s rivalry with China for global influence. He believes that it will fill a critical gap in the US’ global leadership toolkit and enhance its capacity to compete with China on the global stage.
China, which had become the largest contributor to UNESCO during the US absence from the organization, has urged the US to pursue “true multilateralism” and international cooperation. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stressed that international organizations should not be treated as arenas for geopolitical power struggles and emphasized that countries cannot come and go from these organizations as they please. He called for a more responsible approach from the US, encouraging it to view international organizations as platforms for collaboration rather than as mere extensions of political rivalries.
The readmission of the US to UNESCO marks a significant development in the dynamics of global cultural cooperation. The influence of both China and the US within the organization will undoubtedly shape its future direction and the realization of its objectives. As countries navigate complex geopolitical relationships, it is crucial for them to prioritize the core mission of international organizations, which is to foster peace, cooperation, and unity among nations.