United Nations

Who’s the next UN chief and why is he visiting China this week?

Antonio Guterres, Portugal’s former prime minister, expected to discuss Beijing’s cooperation with UN amid Trump’s threat to pull out of climate deal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 1:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 2:13pm

Antonio Guterres, who has been elected as the next UN secretary general, begins a two-day visit to China on Monday.

This will be the first trip to China since the Portuguese politician and diplomat was appointed in October.

He will take over the role from Ban Ki-moon, who steps down on December 31 after serving two terms.

China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed last Monday that Guterres would hold meetings with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

‘Moral duty’ of ensuring peace is top priority for next UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres

Before arriving in Beijing, Guterres travelled to Russia last week, where he met the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They discussed “the ways to strengthen the UN’s central coordinating role in international affairs, improve the UN efficiency in the war on terror and settle acute crises in Syria and Ukraine”, according to a statement released by the Kremlin, the TASS news agency reported.

Who is the newly elected UN Secretary General?

The 67-year-old, who served as was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, as leader of the Socialist Party, was named as the ninth secretary general at the 193-member United Nation General Assembly held on October 13.

Guterres served as UN high commissioner for refugees for a decade up to the end of 2015. Before that, he was the president of the Socialist International, a worldwide association of political social democratic, socialist and labour parties from 1999 to 2005.

While prime minister of Portugal Guterres finalised the 12-year long negotiations for the transfer of sovereignty over Macau, then a Portuguese colony, to China, and attended the handover ceremony in December 1999.

‘All the world listens to him’: how Antonio Guterres carved legacy as a tireless refugee advocate before securing top job at UN

He also successfully campaigned for UN intervention in East Timor during a time of crisis in 1999, when the former Portuguese colony was hit by political unrest and bloodshed.

In the final closed-door “straw poll” carried out by the UN’s 15-member Security Council, Guterres received no “discourage” vote, but 13 votes of “encourage” and two votes of “no opinion”.

Guterres’ election was a surprise to some diplomatic observers, as some thought his election would be blocked by Russia, which has the power of veto as one of the Security Council’s five permanent members, which was believed to have preferred the appointment of someone from East Europe. A majority of the 13 candidates were from East Europe.

What challenges will the newly-elected Secretary General face?

The role of UN Secretary General is never easy, especially when the world is now embroiled in numerous crisis, including the conflict in Syria, refugees, climate change and global threats from extremism and terrorism.

The fighting in Syria will be one of the major challenges for Guterres, who will face a badly divided Security Council, especially between US and Russia.

Elsewhere, the UN’s progress over climate change is also now under threat after US President-elect

Will China take the lead if Trump pulls out of climate change treaty?

Donald Trump suggested that he would withdraw the US from the Paris accord, which came into effect on November 4, and is widely seen as one of the UN’s most important achievements in years.

More than 100 nations representing 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions have signed the historic agreement, the world’s first universal climate pact to battle global warming.

Guterres has also promised to promote gender parity in senior posts in UN, after his election dashed the hopes of the first woman secretary-general being elected; seven of the candidates were women.

Conflicts from Yemen to South Sudan, as well as the on-going nuclear crisis in North Korea, will also be among his first tests.

What will be discussed during his visit to Beijing?

The current international situation, China’s cooperation with the UN, as well as world and regional issues of common concern are expected to be discussed during his meetings with Chinese leaders, Geng Shuang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, said last week.

Beijing hoped that Guterres’ visit would boost mutual trust, Geng added.

Trump’s threat to pull out of climate change treaty has prompted speculation that China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, would take the lead in international climate talks, although Beijing appears to be cautious about such expectations, but said that China hoped the US would honour its commitment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledges 8,000 UN peacekeeping troops, US$1 billion to peace fund

China has been stepping up efforts in its peacekeeping operations abroad in recent years. It is the largest contributor to peacekeeping forces among the five permanent members of the Security Council, and China’s President Xi Jinping pledged last year to increase the number of peacekeeping soldiers to 8,000, from the current 2,600.

In the monthly press conference in late September, Yang Yujun, spokesman of China’s National Defence Ministry, confirmed that China would complete the registration of a 8,000-strong peacekeeping force in near future.