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12 Jun, 2023 02:50

US seeks to challenge China in cultural battleground

Washington wants to return to UNESCO to promote its “vision of a free world”
US seeks to challenge China in cultural battleground

The US is planning to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the State Department confirmed on Sunday. Years after leaving the body, US officials now see it as an essential platform in Washington’s multi-domain rivalry with China.

The State Department sent a letter to the Paris-based body on June 8, outlining its desire to return to the organization after a five-year absence. “It is our understanding that UNESCO leadership will convey our proposal to the membership in the coming days,” the department confirmed to AP.

Washington cut its funding to UNESCO under then-President Barack Obama after Palestine became a full member of the organization in 2011. Washington formally left UNESCO under the administration of Donald Trump in 2017, followed by Israel, citing an alleged “pro-Palestinian bias” within the agency.

“China right now is the single largest contributor to UNESCO,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in March. The diplomat urged Congress to set aside some $150 million for a potential return, as the US owes a significant amount in missed payments.

“They are working on rules, norms and standards for artificial intelligence. We want to be there,” Blinken said.

The move “will help address a critical gap in our global leadership toolkit and capacity, and it will also help us address a key opportunity cost that our absence is creating in our global competition with China,” Under Secretary of State for Management John Bass said at the time.

“If we’re really serious about the digital-age competition with China… we can’t afford to be absent any longer from one of the key fora in which standards around education for science and technology are set,” he added, arguing that the absence undercuts Washington’s ability “to be as effective in promoting our vision of a free world.”

In 2021, three years after a similarly dramatic walkout over alleged anti-Israel bias, the US rejoined the UN Human Rights Council, also fearing a growing Chinese influence over the global body.