Biden's U.N. nominee warns U.S. absence allows China to thrive at world body

Michelle Nichols and Patricia Zengerle
·2-min read
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces announces national security team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware

By Michelle Nichols and Patricia Zengerle

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations stressed on Wednesday the importance of U.S. re-engagement with the 193-member world body in order to challenge efforts by China to "drive an authoritarian agenda".

Beijing has been pushing for greater global influence in a challenge to traditional U.S. leadership. Tension between the two superpowers hit a boiling point at the United Nations last year over the coronavirus pandemic.

"We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution - American values," veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Their success depends on our continued withdrawal," she said, alluding to former president Donald Trump's administration which spurned and pulled back from multilateral institutions. "That will not happen on my watch," she said.

Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year Foreign Service veteran who has served on four continents, most notably in Africa.

While some congressional Republicans have voiced opposition to the Democrat Biden's foreign policy plans, such as possibly rejoining world powers' nuclear deal with Iran, Thomas-Greenfield began the hearing with bipartisan support.

"I believe you are deeply qualified to advance U.S. interests at the U.N.," said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the committee's incoming chairman.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, from Thomas-Greenfield's home state Louisiana, introduced her alongside Democrat Chris Coons.

Trump, a Republican, was critical of the United Nations and wary of multilateral cooperation. He announced plans to quit the World Health Organization and pulled out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, global Paris climate change accord, and Iran nuclear deal.

On his first day in office last week, Biden rescinded the decision to leave the WHO and announced a return to the Paris agreement.

"When America shows up, when we are consistent and persistent, when we exert our influence in accordance with our values, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security, and our collective well-being," Thomas-Greenfield said.

"If instead we walk away from the table, and allow others to fill the void, the global community suffers — and so do American interests."

If confirmed, Thomas-Greenfield will join counterparts with decades of experience in diplomacy from Britain, France, China and Russia which, along with the United States, make up the U.N. Security Council's five permanent veto-wielding members.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)