Photo: Qu Dongyu of China was elected Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on June 23. Credit: FAO - Photo: 2019

China Bags Yet Another Trophy with Qu Dongyu as FAO Chief

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | ROME (IDN) – With the election of Qu Dongyu as Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), China has made yet another stride in its unrelenting efforts to take over a signature role in strategic UN organisations and foster its massive ‘Belt and Road’ infrastructure initiative spanning the globe.

Qu takes over from Brazil’s José Graziano da Silva August 1. He was first elected in 2011 and has served two consecutive terms. The new FAO chief is expected to find in LI Yong, the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) Director-General since 2013, an example of how a UN organisation can be deployed to proselytise the  advantages of the Belt and Road initiative.

Qu will be the fifth Chinese national steering important UN organisations: the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) with Houlin Zhao in the driving seat since 2014; the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) with Dr. Fang Liu as Secretary-General since 2015; and the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) with Liu Zhenmin at the helm since 2017.

According to informed sources, China is waiting in the wings to covet equally strategic posts at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Qu is the first Chinese national to be elected as the FAO chief in the 74-year history Organization. The 56-year old Chinese deputy agriculture minister Qu bagged the top job after the first round of voting among the 194 FAO member countries on June 23.

He won a comfortable margin, obtaining 108 votes, followed by the French and EU candidate Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle (71 votes) and Georgia’s Davit Kirvalidze (12 votes).

Five candidates had been presented by FAO Member Countries for the post of Director-General by February 28, 2019 – the deadline for nominations. But Cameroon’s Médi Moungui withdrew his candidature on March 21 and India’s Ramesh Chand stepped down on June 13 – just nine days before the 41st Session of FAO’s Conference. the highest governing body of the Organization, kicked off on June 22.

Over the years of its existence, FAO was headed by representatives of Brazil, India, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Senegal, the United Kingdom and the United States – all of them males. The first female aspirant for the job, Geslain-Lanéelle, the head of France’s agricultural ministry failed despite strong support from Europe. The U.S. backed Davit Kirvalidze, the former Georgian minister of agriculture.

The significance of the job Qu has been entrusted with was underlined by The Nature in an editorial on June 19: “Charting the future of the world’s food production is one of the biggest challenges we face. Feeding the 10 billion mouths expected on the planet by 2050 will be demanding, but should be doable. Much more difficult will be doing it without irreparably damaging the planet.”

In this context, FAO wields considerable influence on global and local policies and play a key part in agricultural research. “Member nations must choose the right person for the job,” noted the editorial and finds all the candidates “highly qualified for the job.”

The editorial added: “…but it would be naive to think that the winner will be selected on merit alone. The FAO election process – a secret ballot in which every country has a single vote – means that the process is rife with geopolitics and political horse-trading. China in particular is reported to be unabashedly leveraging its influence and its investments in its massive Belt and Road Initiative, to get votes for its candidate. Securing the top FAO job would be a diplomatic win for China and give it weight in setting global food policy.”

EURACTIV.COM affirmed in a report by Gerardo Fortuna that “Beijing was keen to win over the helm of the UN food agency”.

The report referred to a diplomatic source quoted by French newspaper Le Monde, which said that there was “intense Chinese pressure” on other FAO ambassadors to get Qu elected. “African candidate, Médi Moungui from Cameroon, abandoned the race after receiving a bribe of €62 million,” the source claimed.

“Although the ballot is secret, several media reported that Mercosur countries such as Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina had backed Qu’s bid. The Cuban delegation at the UN agency even made their backing public through the mission’s official Twitter account.”

The diplomatic source quoted by Le Monde also said that China did not hesitate to exert economic and political influence over South American countries, threatening to block agricultural exports from Brazil and Uruguay if they did not vote for Qu.

“I’m very grateful to my motherland. Without 40 years of successful reforms and open-door policy I would not have been where I am,” he said in his first speech.

“Now the election is over and I will be committed to the original aspiration, mandate and mission of the organisation,” he said, adding that he will uphold the principles of fairness, openness, justice and transparency, remaining impartial and neutral.

According to reports, during his campaign, Qu was counselled by Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at the Columbia University and “world guru” in sustainable development.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 June 2019]

Photo: Qu Dongyu of China was elected Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on June 23. Credit: FAO

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