China's Role in International Organizations

China Table of Contents

Participation in international organizations is perceived as an important measure of a nation's prestige as well as a forum through which a nation can influence others and gain access to aid programs and sources of technology and information. The People's Republic was precluded from participating actively in most mainstream international organizations for the first two decades of its existence because of its subordinate position in the Sino-Soviet alliance in the 1950s and the opposition of the United States after China's involvement in the Korean War. China repeatedly failed to gain admission to the UN. In 1971 Beijing finally gained China's seat when relations with the United States changed for the better. Taipei's representatives were expelled from the UN and replaced by Beijing's.

After becoming a member of the UN, China also joined most UNaffiliated agencies, including, by the 1980s, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. China's willingness, under the policy of opening up to the outside world beginning in the late 1970s, to receive economic and technical assistance from such agencies as the UN Development Program was a significant departure from its previous stress on self-reliance. In 1986 China renewed its application to regain its seat as one of the founding members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

By the late 1980s, China had become a member of several hundred international and regional organizations, both those of major significance to world affairs, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the International Olympic Committee, and associations or societies focused on such narrow subjects as acrobatics or the study of seaweed. Besides providing China a forum from which to express its views on various issues, membership in the 1970s and 1980s in increasing numbers of international groups gave Chinese foreignaffairs personnel wider knowledge and valuable international experience.

It is notable that by the late 1980s Beijing had not sought formal membership in several important international organizations representative of Third World interests: the Group of 77, the Nonaligned Movement, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Despite the emphasis China placed on Third World relations, China's independent foreign policy and special position as a somewhat atypical Third World nation made it seem unlikely in the late 1980s that China would seek more than observer status in these groups.

By the second half of the 1980s, China's participation in international organizations reflected the two primary goals of its independent foreign policy: furthering domestic economic development through cooperation with the outside world and promoting peace and stability by cultivating ties with other nations on an equal basis. As expressed by Zhao Ziyang in a 1986 report to the National People's Congress, "China is a developing socialist country with a population of over 1 billion. We are well aware of our obligations and responsibilities in the world. We will therefore continue to work hard on both fronts, domestic and international, to push forward the socialist modernization of our country and to make greater contributions to world peace and human progress."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress