Beijing and Washington have sparred over the potential election of a Chinese national to head the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) next week, the latest in their tug-of-war battle for influence at the United Nations . Wang Binying, Beijing’s nominee and current deputy director general of Wipo, is widely seen as the front runner in the election for director general of the organisation that promotes intellectual property protections which set global standards for patents, trademarks and copyrights. The five other candidates are from Kazakhstan, Ghana, Colombia, Peru and Singapore. Ahead of the election, Chinese officials have accused the United States of warning and pressuring other member states not to vote for Wang , while Washington has reportedly sought to promote Singaporean nominee Daren Tang. The strategic spat comes as Beijing has deepened its influence in the United Nations in recent years, becoming the second largest contributor to the organisation’s budget and UN peacekeeping operations after the US, while Chinese nationals now lead four of the 15 specialised UN agencies compared to one from the US. As Beijing has touted its version of global governance and promoted “safeguarding multilateralism” at the UN, an aversion to globalism and multilateralism has seen US President Donald Trump’s administration hold off funding to UN programmes and withdraw from the Human Rights Council and heritage body Unesco. Observers have said Beijing’s growing role at the UN boosts the legitimacy of its controversial infrastructure scheme the Belt and Road Initiative . It also has more influence in shaping norms about state sovereignty in international relations, as it increasingly sidelines Taiwan – the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own – and responds to criticism over human rights issues such as those in Xinjiang . China’s contributions to the UN budget this year accounted for 12 per cent, or US$370 million, compared to five years ago, when its share was only 5 per cent of the total, official UN figures show. The US remains the largest donor, but also the largest debtor, to the UN, contributing 22 per cent in 2020 with nearly US$680 million, in line with its 22 per cent share in 2015. At the UN General Assembly in September, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would “be resolute in upholding the stature and role of the United Nations [and] the international system underpinned by the UN”, in stark contrast to Trump’s remarks encouraging world leaders to prioritise their own countries. “There is no circumstance under which the United States will allow international entities to trample on the rights of our citizens,” the US president said. “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.” But Washington has become increasingly aware of its own waning influence in the UN alongside Beijing’s rising clout, particularly after the landslide election of Chinese national Qu Dongyu to head the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in June, when he secured 108 votes against 12 for the US-backed Georgian candidate. Foreign Policy reported in October that US State Department officials had made defeating China’s FAO nominee a key objective, but it failed amid waning American influence and “hardball tactics” from Chinese diplomats to secure votes for their candidate. In January, the US appointed senior State Department official Mark Lambert to the Bureau of International Organisation Affairs to counter the “malign influences” of China and others at the UN. Meanwhile, a study released last week by Mao Ruipeng from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, financed by the German government, found that China’s voluntary funding to UN agencies seemed to “go to agencies with Chinese citizens in senior positions” – including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the International Telecommunication Union, International Civil Aviation Organisation, and UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). “This may reflect China’s wish for more international organisations to recognise China’s rising global status – while at the same time, international organisations with Chinese senior officials may acquire resources from China more easily,” Mao wrote. Beijing had also increasingly encouraged UN development system agencies to help implement the Belt and Road Initiative, as “UN support for and participation in the BRI is important for strengthening the initiative’s legitimacy and sustainability, and helps its institutionalisation”, he said. China has signed memorandums of understanding on the belt and road scheme with UN agencies including the UN Development Programme, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the World Health Organisation and UNDESA. Is China ready to take lead in fight against climate change? Peter Navarro, assistant to Trump and director of trade and manufacturing policy, wrote in the Financial Times last Sunday that in addition to the Wipo vote, there were five other elections for UN agency heads in 2021 that China could seek to win – the International Labour Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Tourism Organisation, Unesco and UNIDO. “Although China has not yet put forward candidates for any of these jobs, if past is prologue Beijing will be competing for a number of them with either Chinese candidates or proxies from countries deeply in debt to China,” Navarro wrote. “The US and the rest of the UN must also act quickly to assess – and counteract – China’s broader efforts to control other international organisations.” Chen Xu, Beijing’s representative to the UN office in Geneva, has pushed back, arguing that Washington was creating a “political game” out of the Wipo election, and that there was no “China’s control or China’s intention to dominate” the United Nations. 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