Updated: Jun 8
May 13, 2020
The Geneva Observer
This article is a version of our newsletter briefing sent out on Tuesday May 12, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content a day early and straight in your inbox.
On May 8, Daren Tang was confirmed as Director General (DG) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for a six-year term starting in October 2020. Succeeding Australian Francis Gurry, he is the first Singaporean to lead a UN agency and WIPO’s first Asian DG. His appointment is seen as a win for the US, who coordinated a pushback against increasing Chinese influence at the top of UN agencies.
While Mr Tang’s confirmation last week was smooth, the nomination process was anything but. For those of you who missed it, he beat China’s preferred candidate, WIPO Deputy Director-General Wang Binying, on a second-round vote at the Committee stage in early March. This was also seen as a personal victory for US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Andrew Bremberg, who led behind the scenes efforts during the nomination process. In his acceptance speech, Tang thanked the chair of the committee, French Ambassador François Rivasseau, in a tacit acknowledgment of Ambassador Rivasseau’s role in delivering EU votes, thus joining the US and Japan in a one-off coalition in opposition to Beijing.
The Trump administration may publicly talk down multilateralism, but their disdain clearly doesn’t extend to letting China increase its influence unchecked across the board
The Trump administration may publicly talk down multilateralism, but their disdain clearly doesn’t extend to letting China increase its influence unchecked across the board—particularly after a US-backed candidate and a French candidate split the ‘not-China’ vote to lead the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last summer. Not counting leaders from countries deeply indebted to China, Chinese nationals now head four out of 15 UN agencies: the FAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Although the ITU is our editor’s current favourite entry for Geneva’s coveted ’most influential agency you’ve probably never heard of’ award, WIPO is certainly up there. Nicely described by a fellow reporter as “deeply worthwhile but not shudderingly sexy“, it promotes the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) and the international IP system around the world. As such it provides a number of key IP tools and services, and acts as a massive repository of IP law information, patent applications and commercially sensitive information—including unpublished materials—from over 200 jurisdictions. As China is notorious for IP infringement, the American James Pooley, a former WIPO deputy DG described putting China at the helm as “like appointing the fox to guard the hen house”, saying further that it would allow China to access “the secrets of the world’s future technology before anyone else”.
A trend paused or ended? With the leaderships of ILO, IFAD, UNWTO, UNESCO and UNIDO up for grabs in 2021, then WHO and the ICAO in 2022, watch this space …