China Defeated in Bid to Take Control of Yet Another UN Agency

By Patrick Goodenough | March 5, 2020 | 3:41am EST
WIPO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
WIPO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

( – Most Americans will likely not have heard of the World Intellectual Property Organization, but a vote at the obscure U.N. body in Geneva Wednesday saw a Chinese leadership bid defeated, in a victory for the U.S. seven months after it failed to prevent Beijing from taking control of another U.N. agency.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the nomination of Daren Tang as WIPO’s next director general, after an 83-member coordination committee selected the Singaporean over Beijing’s candidate.

Tang received 55 votes compared to 28 for China’s Wang Binyang. (Three other candidates, from Peru, Colombia, and Ghana, dropped out in earlier voting.)

Confirmation of the appointment for the six-year term will come from WIPO’s 192-member general assembly in May, a step usually considered a formality.

Pompeo called Tang “an effective advocate for protecting intellectual property, a vocal proponent of transparency and institutional integrity, and a leader who can unify WIPO member states by forging consensus on difficult issues.”

He did not mention the Chinese candidate. But in recent weeks administration officials have made clear the U.S. does not support a Chinese national at the helm of yet another U.N. agency – least of all one dealing with intellectual property. The U.S. has for years accused China of IP theft, at a cost to the U.S. economy of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Earlier two Republican and two Democratic senators urged Pompeo to do everything possible to deny China leadership of WIPO, citing Beijing’s violations of IP protections, “including through trade secret theft, corporate espionage, and forced transfer of technology.”


In an op-ed last week, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro examined China’s record, and also spoke of its successes in taking control of multilateral organizations.

Chinese nationals are today leading four of the U.N.’s 15 specialized agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Success at WIPO would have brought the number to five.

No other country has a citizen heading more than one U.N. specialized agency. The U.S., Britain and France account for one each (the World Bank, International Labor Organization, and the cultural agency UNESCO respectively) while the rest are led by nationals of Australia, South Korea, Finland, Georgia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Togo, and Bulgaria.

Next year the top spots in five U.N. specialized agencies will be contested – UNIDO, ILO, UNESCO, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Chinese state media outlets have been talking up Wang’s WIPO candidacy in recent weeks, and accusing the U.S. of underhand tactics in lobbying member-states to oppose it.

The Communist Party organ Global Times published an op-ed accusing U.S. officials of “spitting out obsolete accusations against China’s IP system without any shred of evidence.”

Highlighting China’s advances in global innovation, its topping world rankings for new patent application, and massive spending in research and development, the author said such facts obviously do not matter to U.S. critics, “because they do not fit into their narrative of China as a threat to everything.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian weighed in last week, accusing the U.S. of “doing all it can to pressure other countries to give up their support for the Chinese candidate.”

“They’ve even tried to threaten and blackmail those countries by cutting aids [sic] and other disgraceful means,” he said.

Zhao said Wang, a long serving official at WIPO and currently its deputy director-general, was clearly the best candidate, and as a woman her nomination would be in line with efforts “to achieve gender equality in the international community.”

“We believe countries that champion justice and principles will firmly reject the immoral behavior of the U.S. and defend a fair and impartial election.”

Tang, the successful candidate, heads Singapore’s IP Office and has chaired WIPO’s standing committee on copyright and related rights for more than two years. He was lead negotiator for Singapore in the Singapore-U.S. free trade agreement, signed in 2003.

‘A uniquely tempting target’

Last August, the U.S. tried to thwart the election of a Chinese candidate to head the Rome-based FAO, but despite its call on members to support either of two other candidates, Beijing’s Qu Dongyu won by a margin of 108 votes to his rivals’ 71 and 12 votes.

Early this year Reuters reported that the State Department had appointed a career foreign service officer, Mark Lambert, to a role that will include “countering the malign influence of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and others in the U.N. system.”

“There has been increasing consensus in Washington that rising Chinese influence in international organizations can be detrimental to the missions and purposes of those organizations,” Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer wrote in a brief last month.

“Although not every international organization is equally vulnerable in this regard, WIPO is a uniquely tempting target for Chinese exploitation,” he said.

“A Chinese director general would present China unprecedented opportunities to access proprietary patent information with the goal of giving Chinese businesses illicit access to information to which competitors would not have access for months. China has a long record of infringing on intellectual property rights and it is hard to believe that China would not seize an opportunity for illicit competitive advantage if the opportunity arose.”


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