Biden Administration Seeks US Readmission to UN Cultural Body, Aims at Countering China's Soft PowerBreaking News
tags: United Nations, UNESCO
The U.S. is moving to rejoin Unesco—with plans to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in membership fees—in a bid to counter the growing influence of China and other adversaries at the United Nations culture and heritage organization.
On Thursday, a delegation of U.S. diplomats delivered a letter to Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay seeking readmission next month to the Paris-based organization. In the letter, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal, a senior State Department official said the Biden administration plans to request an appropriation of $150 million from Congress for fiscal 2024 to pay Unesco, adding that similar contributions would be made in ensuing years until the country’s membership arrears are fully repaid. The U.S. currently owes Unesco $619 million, according to the organization.
The move aims to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2017, when it cited a need for overhauls at the organization as well as its “continuing anti-Israel bias.” Since then, China has become one of Unesco’s largest donors. The organization’s No. 2 official is now Chinese, positioning Beijing to help steer discussions at the organization on issues ranging from press freedom to education in Ukraine and other war-torn countries.
In an interview, Azoulay said the U.S. was eager to re-establish its influence at an organization that—in addition to designating heritage sites around the world—is at the forefront of global efforts to develop guidelines for artificial intelligence and other sensitive technologies.
“The U.S. are coming back because Unesco has grown stronger, and because it is dealing with issues that concern them,” she added.
In its letter, the State Department said the Biden administration planned to work with Congress to provide additional funding of $10 million in support of certain Unesco programs, including the preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine and education about the Holocaust.
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