Wang Yi, the director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, held a meeting with Tareq M. A. M. Albanai and Alexander Marschik, the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Reform of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, on Saturday, April, 29, 2023. During the meeting, Wang Yi emphasised the importance of giving developing countries a more significant role in the United Nations Security Council.
Wang Yi stressed that any reforms to the Security Council should be based on the principles of fairness and justice. He emphasised the need to provide more opportunities for small and medium-sized countries to participate in the decision-making of the council. Additionally, he highlighted the importance of redressing historical injustices against Africa, further underscoring China’s commitment to addressing the concerns and interests of developing nations.
Why China wants this reform?
In light of China’s growing rivalry with the West, Beijing has been actively seeking support from the global south. Wang Yi’s call for reforming the Security Council to increase the representation and voice of developing countries aligns with China’s foreign policy objectives.
The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement confirming Wang Yi’s remarks. The statement reaffirmed China’s position on the reform of the UN Security Council and its commitment to promoting a more equitable and inclusive global governance system.
During the meeting, Wang called on the pair to help forge consensus and eliminate interferences in the reform process, so that the results will be widely recognised and will stand the test of time.
While Beijing has expressed support for UN Security Council reforms, it has not provided specific recommendations. However, China has called for any reforms to prioritise giving developing countries a greater say. Despite China’s status as the world’s second-largest economy, it has positioned itself as a member of the Global South, advocating for greater representation for the continent and supporting closer ties with African nations.
China urges UNSC Reform to give developing countries greater say
During a tour of Africa in January, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang stated that Beijing is committed to increasing the representation and voices of developing countries in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), particularly those of African nations. He emphasised the need for a more just and equitable global governance system and called for the acceleration of the expansion of representation of Asian, African, and Latin American countries in the UNSC. He lamented the current over-representation of the West in the council and called for UNSC reform too.
During the same discussion, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield and India’s envoy Ruchira Kamboj also expressed support for UNSC reform. The UN Security Council, the main body responsible for managing crises, is currently composed of five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US – each with veto power, and ten non-permanent members selected biennially by the UN General Assembly.
Japan, India, Brazil, and Germany have been actively advocating for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which currently consists of 15 members. These countries have been pushing for their inclusion as permanent members to ensure a more representative and balanced composition of the council. Despite repeated calls for reform, little progress has been made in recent years.
Reason behind the voice for this reform
The on-going tensions between China and the US, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have exposed divisions and given greater impetus to calls for UNSC reform.
Critics have pointed out the Security Council’s perceived failures in effectively addressing various global crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic, conflicts such as the Ukraine war, and climate change. These critics argue that it is high time for a significant redistribution of global power to ensure a more equitable and efficient international governance system.
Among the most vocal critics is India, whose ambassador Ruchira Kamboj recently described the UN Charter, which was formulated in the aftermath of the Second World War, as “anachronistic.” She questioned the notion of “effective multilateralism” when the charter grants disproportionate power to five nations, allowing them to disregard the collective will of the remaining 188 member states. These remarks were made during a debate on the UN charter, highlighting India’s concerns regarding the existing power dynamics within the Security Council.
Failures of present system
The recent failure of the Security Council to effectively address the Rohingya crisis, despite widespread global support for the Rohingyas, highlights the limitations of the council. China and Russia, as two of the UN’s permanent members, supported Myanmar due to their own political and economic interests. Regrettably, no legal action has been taken against Myanmar for its genocidal actions against the Rohingya population.
This lack of action has only emboldened the Myanmar military to commit further atrocities. Similarly, the Security Council has been unable to take unanimous and effective action regarding Israel’s aggression in the Palestinian territories and the continuous violation of human rights in the region.
The UN Charter explicitly prohibits aggressive war under Article 39. However, the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 without UN approval and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime violated the Charter. Likewise, the US and UK conducted airstrikes in Libya in 2011, citing the need to protect human rights, which ultimately led to the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime and the current state of instability in the country. Similar concerns have been raised in the case of Syria, and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has not been effectively prevented by the UN. These instances demonstrate that powerful countries often disregard UN policies and act in their own interests.
Europe, despite comprising only 6.6 percent of the world’s land area, holds a disproportionate representation on the Security Council, with three permanent members. In contrast, Africa and South America, which together make up 32 percent of the world’s land area, have no permanent representation. The Asian continent, with over 60 percent of the global population, has a representation rate of less than 20 percent. This lack of equitable geographic and regional participation undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the Security Council.
Reforming the Security Council or increasing the number of permanent members would be challenging, as it requires the agreement of two-thirds of the General Assembly and all current Security Council members. However, given the current global landscape, it has become imperative to undertake such reforms to address the existing deficiencies. The UNSC must be adapted to better reflect the realities of the world and ensure fair and inclusive representation, considering the pressing global issues and the need for more equitable decision-making processes.