Multilateralism to the Rescue? Beijing’s Support for Multilateral Institutions during the COVID-19 Crisis
During the global COVID-19 crisis, China has portrayed itself as a “champion of multilateralism” – defending UN institutions and its own multilateral initiatives in a variety of spheres. China’s approach has, however, often been criticised for undermining multilateralism through its use of multilateral platforms as arenas to contest US leadership. This paper examines the official Chinese discourse on multilateralism during the COVID 19 crisis in the years 2020 and 2021 in light of Beijing’s multilateral diplomacy in the Global South, exemplified by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the China-CELAC Forum (China–Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Forum). The authors argue that China’s growing multilateral engagement must be understood in the context of a multilateral system that was already in crisis before the pandemic due to its inability to resolve major global challenges. The term “multilateralism” is essentially used by Beijing to discursively oppose “unilateralism”. While its active multilateral engagement may be able to prevent and resolve major global crises in the future, Beijing’s approach offers limited multilateral spaces for deliberation and contestation by weaker states and non-state actors.
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