Negotiating a Position in Global Politics

The Decades of Chinese Cooperation with International Organisations
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room 3

  • Organised by Yun Huang
  • Chaired by Iris Borowy
  • Yun Huang, “’With a Mill-Stone about Her Neck’: China’s Participation in the 1924–1925 Geneva Opium Conferences and Its Impacts”
  • Kai-yi Li, “The League of Nations and Chinese Cultural Diplomacy during the Interwar Period”
  • Lu Chen, “Between Science and Politics: China and the WHO, 1946–1953”
  • Iris Borowy, “The 1946 Garbage Removal Project Peipine—UNRAA Working through Proxy”
  • Rainer Lanselle, Discussant

During the tumultuous period of Chinese history in half of the twentieth century, as China went through profound socio-economic transformations, revolution, and warfare, several Chinese governments embraced active participation in international organisations. Cooperation served several purposes: to seek international recognition, receive tangible support for real problems, claim a position in the international arena. This panel explores four examples spanning three decades, ranging from negotiations with the League of Nations, UNESCO, and the World Health Organisation, discussing issues with regard to narcotic drug policies, intellectual cooperation, education, and public health. All cases involve a complicated interaction of the impact of these organisations on Chinese politics and Chinese impact on international policies, as well as of work on the technical issues at hand and their political underpinnings. Repeatedly, international organisations provided a forum in which domestic conflicts played out, be it internal conflicts between rival warlords or competing parties. In the process, the connection between Chinese governments and international organisations also reflected and helped forge evolving concepts of modernisation and development through ideas of acceptable drug consumption, education, and health policies. At the same time, the degree of cooperation also served as a yardstick by which the opening of China to the world—and of the world to China—could be measured.

Yun Huang, “’With a Mill-Stone about Her Neck’: China’s Participation in the 1924–1925 Geneva Opium Conferences and Its Impacts”

During the period of Republican China, while the international drugs regulatory system progressed, China actively participated and also adopted an increasingly harsh domestic drug policy. It is necessary to illuminate the relationship between the process of the international drugs regulatory system and the changing Chinese drug policy, a dimension which has not been adequately addressed. This case study will explore China’s participation in the 1924-1925 Geneva Opium Conferences and its impact on Chinese domestic drug policy as well as the history of modern China on the basis of both League of Nations documents and Chinese archives. For this purpose, it will analyse both the Chinese participation in five sessions of the Advisory Committee of Opium of the League of Nations and the endeavours of Chinese representatives at the Geneva Opium Conferences, its discourse, as well as the impacts of those activities. In conclusion, this article argues that China’s participation was not as passive as phrased by existing research, but contributed to the conferences, especially on the matter of refined drugs regulation. However, its active participation was hampered not only by the political situation in China which mainly resulted from the fragmenting of warlords but also its worry of the increase of the power of civil groups which consisted of missionary associations, intellectuals, elites etc. The anticipation of Chinese government to take advantage of both international influence and domestic civil groups and its worry of the interference of international and the increase of civil group led to its dilemma on the drug’s regulation.

Kai-yi Li, “The League of Nations and Chinese Cultural Diplomacy during the Interwar Period”

In 1931, the Nanjing government commenced technical cooperation with the League of Nations. As a part of the program, the Chinese government and intellectual groups participated in several activities organised by or under the auspices of the League of Nations’ intellectual organisations. In addition to providing international assistance, those activities also offered platforms for the Chinese government and intellectuals to construct the international image of China and were the initial attempts of the cultural diplomacy of the Nanjing government. This paper analyses what cultural image the Chinese government and intellectuals tried to construct through the educational activities of the League of Nations. To answer this question, the analysis will probe two intellectual organisations in China, The Chinese National Committee of International Intellectual Cooperation (CNIIC) and the Chinese National Educational Cinematographic Institute (CNECI), which joined the International Committee of Intellectual Cooperation and the International Educational Cinematographic Institute of the League of Nations, respectively. The focus of this part will be on the political background of the two organisations in China and on the intellectuals involved in the educational activities. The article then will move on to two educational activities. The first is the participating of educational films competitions of the CNECI. The research will analyse the intention of CNECI to participate in the competitions and the contents of two educational films, The Farmers’ Spring and Chinese Sports. The second is the visiting programs of the educational mission appointed by the League of Nations to China in 1931. In this part, travelling letters of the mission members and archive documents will be studied. The paper concludes that the cultural image the Chinese government and intellectuals tried to construct emphasised modernisation and tradition, and the international intellectual order.

Lu Chen, “Between Science and Politics: China and the WHO, 1946–1953”
With an ambitious goal—“the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was founded in 1948. Since its establishment, the WHO has defined 22 primary functions, of which the first was “to act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work”. However, the changing politics after World War II and the Cold War challenged WHO’s role as a directing and coordinating authority of global health. Coinciding with the hostilities between China’s ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in their competition for power, the newly built international organisation’s officials in Geneva and its representatives in the Far East were forced to navigate a strategy to deal with the membership of China after 1949, when the CCP replaced the KMT as the ruling party, and both regimes on the Chinese mainland and Taiwan claimed to be the legal representative of China at the United Nations (UN). With support from the United States (US), the KMT-led Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) continued to claim membership at the UN and its specialist agencies, including the WHO. In 1952, the CCP decided to withdraw from the UN and its specialist agencies in protest against the US’s promotion of Taiwan within the international arena. In the coming two decades, the legal representation of China was constantly being argued at the UN, until the CCP won major support in 1971. This paper explores the Chinese representation in WHO since the organisation’s establishment until China’s withdrawal from it in 1952. Based on primary sources from Foreign Ministry of China, the WHO archive, and the National Archive of the UK, the paper examines domestic and international factors shaped the trajectory of Chinese relations with the WHO during this period.

Iris Borowy, “The 1946 Garbage Removal Project Peipine—UNRAA Working through Proxy”

Towards the end of World War II, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, UNRRA, organised health work in countries that came under allied control. Unlike in Europe, where UNRRA retained control over its activities, in China, the Republican Government insisted on keeping full control over these activities and, in 1945, it established the Chinese National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, CNRRA, designed to organise relief in cooperation with UNRRA. The work of CNRRA soon gained a reputation of mismanagement and a lot of aid was said to disappear in murky channels. In total, UNRRA supplied approximately 500 million dollars worth of goods and services. Since Chinese authorities demanded the right to sell some relief goods to raise money needed to finance the distribution of products, the cooperation involved some ambiguity between being a charitable or commercial activity.
A case in point was an agreement in early 1946 between the Bureau of Health of the Municipal Government of Beijing and CNRRA Regional Office which stipulated that the Bureau of Health would hire refugees to remove 1,200 tons of accumulated garbage from the streets per day, paid not with money but with flour provided by CNRRA. Workers were free to sell again if they wished. This arrangement was specifically termed “in lieu of relief” and effectively transformed food aid into a trade arrangement. For a while, it promised an effective combination of several goals (garbage removal and food assistance), but in practice, it got bogged down in accusations of corruption in which all parties blamed each other.
On the basis of UN primary sources, this paper analyses how the mixture of goals interacted with a mixture of responsibilities while eventually neither appears to have mattered, as petty crime and efforts for everyday survival took over.

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Room 3
The Decades of Chinese Cooperation with International Organisations