More Chinese at helm of international organisations

Mr Yang Shaolin is now the No. 2 at the World Bank.
Mr Yang Shaolin is now the No. 2 at the World Bank.
Mr Zhang Xiaogang is president of the International Organisation of Standardisation.
Dr Liu Fang is the first woman to head the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Mr Zhao Houlin is secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union.
Mr Zhao Houlin is secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union.
Mr Zhang Xiaogang is president of the International Organisation of Standardisation.
Mr Zhang Xiaogang is president of the International Organisation of Standardisation.

Trend underscores growing influence of China in traditionally Western institutions

A slew of Chinese officials have assumed top positions in world organisations in the past year, a trend that analysts say underscores the country's growing influence in traditionally Western institutions.

The latest is China's Ministry of Finance (MOF) official Yang Shaolin, who was named the World Bank's chief administrative officer and managing director this week.

As director-general of the MOF's department of international economic and financial cooperation, Mr Yang was in charge of coordination between China and global financial institutions.

In taking up what has been described as the World Bank's No. 2 position, Mr Yang follows in the footsteps of at least three other Chinese officials who assumed key posts in international organisations last year.

TO MAKE PROGRESS

This requires acceptance from the Western-centric organisations, which do hold biases against China. But with its rise, other countries realise they have to bring China into the fold. It also gives China an opportunity to relook rules that have not been beneficial to itself or developing countries.

DR SU CHANGHE, from Fudan University's School of International Relations and Public Affairs, on Chinese officials taking leading roles in world bodies.

Dr Liu Fang was the first woman to be appointed chief of the International Civil Aviation Organisation; Mr Zhao Houlin became secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU); and Mr Zhang Xiaogang assumed office as the president of ISO, or the International Organisation of Standardisation.

In all three cases, it was the first time a Chinese national was leading the organisation. All of them were elected to their positions.

Chinese nationals assumed executive roles in the World Bank in 2008 and the International Monetary Fund in 2011, among others, but the trend appears to have picked up pace, observers note.

Dr Su Changhe from Fudan University's School of International Relations and Public Affairs noted that after being on the sidelines of international organisations for years, China has been edging towards having a bigger say in recent years - and seeing more success.

"This requires acceptance from the Western-centric organisations, which do hold biases against China," he told The Straits Times.

"But with its rise, other countries realise they have to bring China into the fold. It also gives China an opportunity to relook rules that have not been beneficial to itself or developing countries."

By having leaders in the international standard-setting bodies ISO and ITU, for instance, China believes it can help set rules that better consider its needs and those of less developed states.

On Tuesday , World Bank president Kim Jim Yong said Mr Yang's addition strengthens its leadership, as part of a roster that "reflects the wisdom and diversity of many cultures and countries".

China - the World Bank's third- largest shareholder - has long argued that it has not had a proportional say, despite its economic power.

Local media reports pointed out that in 2013, China held only 11 senior management positions in the United Nations, fewer than the 48 held by the United States, and Britain's 19; and similar to smaller countries like Argentina and South Korea.

Although it continues to be actively involved in established organisations, China has also sought to create its own spheres of influence by starting new bodies, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will be officially opened today.

Dr Su added that having Chinese nationals lead global organisations also offers important lessons, given that China has limited experience leading other countries.

"If China is to grow as an effective leader on the world stage, it needs to learn how to work with many different countries, how to manage everyone's needs and expectations," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'More Chinese at helm of international organisations'. Print Edition | Subscribe