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China in the Hot Seat; Goodbye Multilateralism?; Guterres’s Vision for 5 More Years


US Secretary of State Blinken participating in the United Nations Security Council debate on multilateralism, from Washington, May 7, 2021. The goal of the China-led meeting was to hear Council members’ takes on the future of the UN and the international order. Blinken said it was in “serious jeopardy.” FREDDIE EVERETT/STATE DEPARTMENT

China in the United Nations’ hot seat; Guterres’s vision for another five years; the future of global cooperation; who was Anne Dragon Nezeriotis?

You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues facing the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources.

Our latest UN-Scripted podcast episode is out, and it’s all about China leading the Security Council in May; the accompanying article explains how this permanent member plans to conduct business this month, trying to avoid, for now, the brutal situation in Myanmar.

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Sunday, May 2

• “She Had a Front-Row Role in the Early Days of the UN, but Is Forgotten Now“: Anne Dragon Nezeriotis was a young American from Lynn, Mass., who worked for Gen. Carlos Romulo of the Philippines, when he was a national delegate to the UN. Her story as his personal secretary and role in early, key UN events is told in this essay by Erwin Tiongson.

Monday, May 3

• “On the Campaign Trail for the World’s ‘Most Impossible’ Job“: Dali ten Hove reports on the fact that this year, UN member countries will pick a secretary-general for the next five-year term, and the incumbent‘s success is a given. But a former candidate, in 2016, offers anyone running for the post in the future stony advice: the Security Council’s permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, are the deciders.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked: “11 immigrants drowned yesterday off the coast of Libya. That brings the total number of immigrants who tried to cross to Europe, and we know that they died, 600 people since the beginning of the year. The Norwegian Refugee Council issued a statement saying that this tragedy and those before were completely avoidable had Europe stepped up and allowed rescue missions to bring migrants and refugees to safety, rather than shifting the blame on others. What’s your comment?”

Response: “There has been . . . a lack of global solidarity when it comes to migrants and refugees, especially when you look at the situation in the Mediterranean. We have always called for greater European solidarity and coordinated efforts. People who are at sea and in danger need to be rescued. The other side of that equation is the situation in Libya. Libya is not a safe place for migrants and refugees. We hope that the political dialogue that is underway will bring greater stability for Libya.” (Update: The UN Refugee Agency warned about the “mounting number of refugee and migrant deaths in the Central Mediterranean.” So far in 2021, at least 500 people are known to have died trying to make the sea crossing; that’s compared to 150 in the same period in 2020.)

Secretary-General António Guterres, left, traveled to Kentucky for the annual derby, invited by a former US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft. The trip was not listed on Guterres’s public schedule, but the airfare was paid for by the UN, as it fell in the “allotment,” his spokesperson said. (Guterres paid for his hotel stay.) In the pandemic, he has traveled only to Berlin, Lisbon and Geneva and back to New York City. This month, he goes to Moscow to discuss his candidacy for a second term.

• Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the UN, was sworn in as the new administrator of Usaid, below, by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Tuesday, May 4

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A UN team was deployed to “assess social unrest in Colombia when the police started open firing on protesters that were rallying against tax reform.”

A reporter asked, “I wonder whether or not the SG [secretary-general] sees as problematic the fact that the Colombian Government is deploying the military to increase security and possibly heighten the tensions there.” Response: “As in any similar situation, governments have a responsibility to allow peaceful protests to go on, and I would refer you to what our Human Rights Office colleagues have said in that regard. I think they issued something out of Geneva.

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• Volkan Bozkir, the president of the General Assembly, held a press briefing, his third since taking office in September 2020. He answered many questions on the UN secretary-general selection process, including why the names of at least six civil society candidates (or “applicants,” as Bozkir sometimes calls them) have not been circulated to all UN member states or publicly released. He also noted that even if a candidate had national backing it did not guarantee that the nominee is official. In addition, he discussed the still-murky picture regarding the format for the high-level week of the UN General Assembly session in September in New York City. (More discussion on it will be held on May 19, he said, with UN member states.)

• Dozens of nongovernmental organizations are calling on the UN Security Council to “urgently impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar to help prevent further violations of human rights against peaceful protesters and others opposing military rule.”

• The Forward campaign to nominate a woman for UN secretary-general held a briefing to introduce its candidate, Rosalía Arteaga, a former short-lived president of Ecuador. According to Arteaga, who has not been recognized as an official nominee by the General Assembly and Security Council presidents, Ecuador’s “President Lenin Moreno decided to support” her by sending an endorsement letter to the respective UN presidents, but she asked him not to do so, she told PassBlue in an email on May 7. Instead, she wished to “maintain my candidacy as an initiative of the civil society.” 

Wednesday, May 5

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Since February, there have been 158 reported attacks on health care workers and facilities in Myanmar, resulting in 11 deaths and dozens of injuries. These comprise the majority of all attacks on health care globally since the beginning of February, according to the WHO. At least 31 health facilities across Myanmar remain occupied by the military; and at least 139 doctors believed to be participating in civil disobedience have reportedly been charged by the authorities. 

Thursday, May 6

• “China’s Agenda for May: Less on Myanmar, More on Tech, Peace and Security“: Stéphanie Fillion reports that though China is president of the UN Security Council in May, it is planning to avoid discussing some major world problems, like the deadly repression in Myanmar. Instead China will focus on, among other subjects, the vague threat of “emerging technologies.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked: “As a follow‑up on the Secretary‑General’s statement supporting the US backing for waivers on the patents for COVID‑19 vaccines, France has apparently followed suit. But apparently, just one country voting against a waiver would be enough to block efforts at the World Trade Organization (WTO). What will the Secretary‑General be doing to try to push his support for this effort going through?”

Response: “Obviously, this would be a very important decision if adopted by the WTO, but we also need to work simultaneously on the scaling‑up of manufacturing . . . and ensuring that everyone has access to all the basic elements that are needed to manufacture the vaccine.”

• A debate for the June 7 election of the next president of the General Assembly (76th session) was held with the two candidates, Zalmai Rassoul of Afghanistan and Abdulla Shahid of Maldives, who spoke and released their vision statements. 

• Guterres issued a readout of his phone call with President Xi Jinping of China. 

Friday, May 7

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The head of the WHO has announced that the agency has given emergency-use listing to Sinopharm Beijing’s Covid-19 vaccine. This brings the number of vaccines receiving such validation for “safety, efficacy and quality” to six and will make it easier for poorer nations to get shots.

• The UN Security Council’s multilateralism debate, led by China, featured US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other foreign ministers and government officials, representing all 15 Council members. (See the video below.) Sparring occurred in the remarks among the US, China and Russia.

• The only official candidate for UN secretary-general for the 2022-2026 term, the incumbent Guterres of Portugal, took part in an informal dialogue with member states and a few pre-selected civil society organizations, below. His vision statement this year; in 2016.

Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this article.

Ivana Ramirez is from South Carolina. She will begin matriculating as an undergraduate student at Yale University in 2021. She writes PassBlue’s This Week @UN news summary and is the researcher for PassBlue’s UN-Scripted podcast series.

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