U.N. Chief Careful Not to Offend China, Other Powerful Nations

By Patrick Goodenough | June 8, 2011 | 5:15 AM EDT

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on November 1, 2010. (UN Photo by Mark Garten)

(CNSNews.com) – When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Beijing late last year, advocacy groups accused him of playing down human rights concerns to avoid losing China’s support in his bid for a second term. This week China confirmed that it would back Ban for another five years at the helm of the world body.

“China is satisfied with his job,” Chinese ambassador to the U.N. Li Baodong said in New York shortly after Ban formally announced his candidacy. “China supports Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s bid for re-election and hopes that he will gain the extensive support of all parties.”

President Obama on Tuesday offered his backing, saying Ban had “made important reforms” at the U.N., and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe offered France’s “full support.”

Diplomats say Britain and Russia, the remaining permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, also have endorsed a second term for Ban.

(Candidates require the backing of nine of the Security Council’s 15 members, and no veto from any of the five permanent members. The council’s recommendation then goes to the full General Assembly for approval, usually a formality.)

Ban also received a nod from the influential Asia Group, which accounts for 53 of the General Assembly’s 192 members. A vote could come before the end of June.

With that level of support and no prospective challenger in view, the former South Korean foreign minister, who turns 67 next week, looks set to have a smooth passage to a second term in the 38th floor office at U.N. headquarters.

Ban appears to have accomplished the feat of keeping the world’s most powerful countries happy enough with his efforts not to look for an alternative.

Even the Kremlin, which has bristled in recent months over what it sees as the U.N. taking sides in internal conflicts in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire – “a dangerous trend,” in Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s words – has directed its criticism more towards fellow Security Council members than towards the secretary-general.

Ban stayed on the right side of China last fall by responding very cautiously to the awarding of the 2010 Nobel peace prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo – an award that infuriated Beijing.

Ban’s brief reaction to the Nobel announcement did not include a call for Liu to be released, prompting the advocacy group Human Rights in China to call it “disappointing and weak.”

Then during a meeting with President Hu Jintao in Beijing in November, Ban did not raise any human rights issues, including Lui’s imprisonment. He did praise China’s role in dealing with the global financial crisis, promoting sustainable development and “protecting the rights of women and children.” (Ban’s spokesman said human rights had come up in his meetings with other Chinese officials.)

In January, Human Rights Watch in its annual report said Ban at time went “out of his way to portray oppressive governments in a positive way.”

‘Ban can get things done’

Ban’s relationship with Washington has been good, under both the Obama and Bush administrations.

(In his memoir Surrender is Not an Option, Bush’s ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, described the steps taken in support of Ban’s election in 2006, and compared him favorably to the man he was to replace, Kofi Annan, whose staff had suggested be viewed as a “secular pope.”

Referring to Ban, Bolton wrote, “Of all the candidates to succeed Annan, I thought he was the least likely to wake up at some point during his five-year term concluding that he was God’s gift to humanity.”)

Ban welcomed “wholeheartedly” the Nobel committee’s decision to award the 2009 peace prize to Obama, calling it “very wise” and “great news” – an endorsement that contrasted sharply with his guarded response to the committee’s 2010 choice.

Advocates of U.S. engagement with the U.N. heartily endorsed Ban this week.

United Nations Foundation president Tim Wirth said Ban “knows that the success of the U.N. as an institution, and its impact in the daily life of families around the globe, depends on its commitment to innovation and partnership.”

“We need a leader at the United Nations who can help us solve today’s big problems, and Ban Ki-moon has proven he’s someone who is committed to seeing the job through and will work tirelessly to get it done right,” said Ted Turner, who founded the U.N. Foundation with his $1 billion pledge to the U.N. in 1998.

“I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from the best-of-the-best in business, philanthropy, and global politics, and Ban is a leader who can bring people around the table to get things done,” Turner added.

Ban’s first term is set to end on December 31 this year.

In a letter to the Security Council on Tuesday, Ban wrote that he was “humbly submitting my name for the consideration of the members of the Security Council for a second term.”

Ban said that he and the council had “found common ground on critical global issues of peace and security - from Somalia to Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East and far beyond.”

“I am proud of all we have done together, even as I am mindful of the formidable challenges ahead,” he wrote.

Four of Ban’s seven predecessor served two full terms each – U. Thant of Burma (1961-1971), Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981), Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991) and Kofi Annan of Ghana (1997-2006).

Of the other three, Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1952) drew strong Soviet opposition and resigned early; the second term of Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961) was cut short when he died in a plane crash; and Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996) was vetoed by the U.S. for a second term in 1996.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow