US Rejoins UNESCO and Settles Back Dues to Counter Chinese Influence

by Michael Nguyen

On Monday, UNESCO announced that the United States intends to rejoin the cultural and scientific agency of the United Nations. After a decade-long dispute triggered by UNESCO’s inclusion of Palestine as a member, the US plans to pay over $600 million in outstanding dues. The decision to return was motivated by the US officials’ concerns about China’s increasing influence in UNESCO policymaking, particularly in the areas of artificial intelligence standards and global technology education.

The upcoming weeks will see a vote by UNESCO’s member states on this move, but approval appears to be a formality given the resounding applause that followed the announcement at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris. Notably, not a single country objected to the return of the US, once the largest contributor to the agency.

Following UNESCO’s decision to admit Palestine as a member state in 2011, the US and Israel ceased their financial support. The Trump administration later chose to withdraw entirely from the agency in 2018, citing ongoing anti-Israel bias and managerial issues.

Since her election as UNESCO’s director general in 2017, Audrey Azoulay has worked to address these concerns, and her efforts seem to have paid off. She described the decision as a historic moment for UNESCO and a significant day for multilateralism.

Richard Verma, the US Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, formalized the plan to rejoin by submitting a letter to Azoulay last week. The letter, obtained by AP, acknowledges progress in depoliticizing Middle East debates and reforming the agency’s management.

This decision provides a substantial boost to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, renowned for its World Heritage program, climate change initiatives, and efforts to promote literacy among girls.

While the trigger for the US fallout with UNESCO was the admission of Palestine, the decision to return primarily revolves around countering China’s growing influence. Undersecretary of State for Management John Bass stated in March that the US absence from UNESCO had bolstered China and weakened their ability to promote their vision of a free world effectively.

It is important to note that the US decision does not address the status of Palestine. Despite being a member of UNESCO, the Palestinians are further away from independence than ever, with no serious peace talks in over a decade and a new Israeli government consisting of hardliners opposed to Palestinian independence.

The Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO did not comment on the US decision, and China’s ambassador, Jin Yang, was the only envoy who did not shower it with praise. Jin Yang acknowledged the negative impact of the US absence and expressed hope that the move demonstrates Washington’s commitment to multilateralism.

Azoulay, UNESCO’s director, who is Jewish, received widespread praise for her personal efforts to foster consensus among Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli diplomats regarding sensitive UNESCO resolutions. She also engaged with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to explain her diplomatic initiatives. Through bipartisan negotiations, she expressed confidence that the US decision to return is long-term, regardless of the outcome of the next presidential election.

According to Verma’s letter, under the plan, the US government will pay its 2023 dues along with $10 million in bonus contributions for this year. These funds will be allocated to Holocaust education, preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine, journalist safety, and science and technology education in Africa.

The Biden administration has already requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to cover UNESCO dues and arrears. Similar requests are expected in subsequent years until the total debt of $619 million is paid off.

This payment represents a significant portion of UNESCO’s annual operating budget of $534 million. Before its withdrawal, the US contributed 22% of the agency’s overall funding.

A UNESCO diplomat expressed hope that the

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UNESCO, Chinese influence

What is the reason for the United States’ decision to rejoin UNESCO and pay back dues?

The United States’ decision to rejoin UNESCO and settle its back dues is primarily motivated by concerns about China’s increasing influence in UNESCO policymaking. The US aims to counter this influence and regain its own global influence within the organization.

Why did the US withdraw from UNESCO in the first place?

The US and Israel withdrew from UNESCO in response to the organization’s decision to include Palestine as a member state in 2011. The Trump administration further decided to withdraw entirely from the agency in 2018, citing long-standing anti-Israel bias and managerial issues.

What changes have occurred within UNESCO to prompt the US to rejoin?

Since 2017, UNESCO’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, has made efforts to address the concerns raised by the US. Her work in depoliticizing Middle East debates and reforming the agency’s management has helped pave the way for the US decision to return.

How does the US decision impact UNESCO’s funding?

The US’s rejoining UNESCO and settlement of back dues provides a significant financial boost to the organization. Prior to its withdrawal, the US was the largest contributor, accounting for 22% of UNESCO’s overall funding. The US has already made plans to pay its 2023 dues and has requested budget allocations for future years to cover the remaining debt.

Does the US decision address the status of Palestine?

No, the US decision to rejoin UNESCO does not directly address the status of Palestine. While Palestine is a member of UNESCO, the situation regarding Palestinian independence remains unresolved. The US decision primarily focuses on countering Chinese influence within the organization.

More about UNESCO, Chinese influence

  • UNESCO Official Website: The official website of UNESCO provides information on the organization’s mission, programs, and initiatives.
  • UNESCO News: Stay updated with the latest news and announcements from UNESCO on their official news page.
  • United States Department of State: The official website of the U.S. Department of State offers information on U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic efforts.
  • Associated Press (AP) News: AP is a reliable source for news articles and reports, providing comprehensive coverage on various topics, including the US decision to rejoin UNESCO.
  • Reuters: Reuters is a reputable news agency that covers global events and provides in-depth reporting on international affairs, including developments related to UNESCO and Chinese influence.

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LanguageLover June 12, 2023 - 5:57 pm

nice to see the text covers different perspectives and concerns about israel palestine conflict and how it fits into unesco’s work good effort to present a balanced view

CoolGuy123 June 12, 2023 - 8:29 pm

lol us and israel stopped financing unesco after they allowed palestine as member its like a big drama but now they back paying dues wonder how it will affect things

JaneDoe June 13, 2023 - 2:59 am

this decision shows the us is serious about multilateralism and working with international organizations hope it brings more ambition and energize programs that need it

JohnSmith June 13, 2023 - 9:26 am

wow us rejoins unesco and pays back dues thats a smart move to counter china influence good to see them taking action

TechNerd77 June 13, 2023 - 1:25 pm

technology and science education standards are important in this digital age glad the us is back to contribute and compete with china in that area


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