China-africa relations in the UN system are well aligned for the future
LOOKING back in history, it was in 1971 that African countries used their numerical strength in the United Nations (UN) to tip the scales in favor of China. With the firm support of the continent, China was able to garner the two-thirds majority vote needed to reclaim its legal seat 45 years ago. This act is often remembered in nostalgic strokes as Africa having carried China into the UN on its shoulders. Attempts were made throughout the 1970s and 1980s for a reversal of China’s seat at the UN, but failed thanks to African countries’ steadfastness in upholding China’s position.
Since then, China and Africa have been great allies in the UN system. In a 1974 speech at the UN General Assembly, China’s then top leader Deng Xiaoping enunciated China’s view of the world under the “three worlds theory” that called for solidarity among developing countries. This view was not only welcomed by African countries at the time, but has remained a point of convergence between China and Africa. This is for instance clearly stated in declarations and action plans under the Forum on China-africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The declarations and action plans call for the reform of the UN system to ensure that African countries are properly represented in the UN system, a call seen to be resisted by developed nations.
Quite symbolically, Chinese and African leaders have since 2009 held high-level discussions on the side lines of the annual UN General Assembly in New York. The affirmation of China-africa cooperation in the UN system can be seen in the voting patterns over crucial issues in specialized UN sessions and at the General Assembly. Faced by censure, condemnation, embargoes and sanctions by Western countries in UN agencies such as the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNHRC - renamed UN Human Rights Council in 2006), African countries have voted in support of China’s positions and China has voted in favor of African countries’. It is a symbiotic relationship where African countries use their numerical superiority to support China and China uses it veto power in the UN Security Council to support African countries’ interests. In these respects, China and African countries have forged ties interpreted as a global south balance of power vis-à-vis the global north.