(March 5): The U.S. defeated a Chinese bid to run the United Nations intellectual property agency, a victory in the Trump administration’s push to convince countries of the threat posed by China taking a more assertive role on the global stage.
The U.S.-backed candidate, Daren Tang of Singapore, won by a vote of 55-28 over Chinese candidate Wang Binying among the governments voting for the leadership of the World Intellectual Property Organization, which helps develop cross-border policies on intellectual property.
While the agency is relatively obscure, the leadership fight had become a crucial battleground in the bid by President Donald Trump’s administration to counter what it has seen as China’s growing influence and assertiveness in international agencies and the U.N. The State Department had made it a top priority to stop China’s candidate from winning the election.
The fight underlines the growing intensity of the U.S.-China rivalry even after the two countries reached a phase-one trade agreement. That tariff war has already sapped global trade, choked supply chains and boosted worries of a new Cold War as competition between the nations intensifies in a range of different forums.
It was also a reversal of fortunes after the U.S. suffered a humiliating defeat when it failed to stop a Chinese candidate from taking leadership of another UN specialized agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization. That prompted a new focus by the Trump administration to make its voice heard in multilateral organizations after what critics had said was scorn and neglect over its first three years.
“Mr. Tang is an effective advocate for protecting intellectual property, a vocal proponent of transparency and institutional integrity and a leader who can unify WIPO member states by forging consensus on difficult issues,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday. Earlier, Pompeo had made clear the Trump administration’s stand that a Chinese citizen must not be allowed to take the job.
U.S. officials China’s history of intellectual-property theft. And Andrew Bremberg, who recently took up the post of ambassador to the UN in Geneva, had made the WIPO fight a top priority.
Writing in the Financial Times last week, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro argued that China shouldn’t lead WIPO because its commitment to protect intellectual property doesn’t match Western standards. He also accused China of wanting greater influence over the UN to advance political objectives such as isolating Taiwan.
Several candidates were running to lead WIPO and succeed Francis Gurry, an Australian who has led the organization since 2008. The U.S. had backed Tang, the chief executive of Singapore’s intellectual property office who has a master’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington.
The fight between the U.S. and China over the job got nasty, with Chinese officials arguing that the U.S. was trying to suppress its rise. China accused the U.S. of threatening to withhold World Bank and International Monetary Fund money to countries that voted for the Chinese candidate, a claim the U.S. denied.