Chinese Vice President Promotes Alternative to Western Leadership at UN General Assembly

Chinese Vice President Promotes Alternative to Western Leadership at UN General Assembly
Chinese Vice President Han Zheng meets with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Sept. 18, 2023. (Xinhua/Gao Jie)

The Lede: China’s Vice President Han Zheng delivered a speech at the General Debate of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday in which he touted Beijing’s leadership among the community of Global South countries and advocated for an alternative vision of global order in contrast to the U.S.-led system.

What We Know:

  • Han promoted the “three globals,” which include the Global Security Initiative, Global Development Initiative, and Global Civilizations Initiative. They embody the principles of China’s alternate international order such as state sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as ending unilateralism, bloc confrontation, and interference.
  • The vice president referred to China’s role as a leader among Global South countries and emphasized the need to improve representation for developing countries and make global governance more just and equitable.
  • He also touched on China’s position on Taiwan, human rights and democracy as defined from Beijing’s perspective, and the desire to achieve a cease-fire and peace in Ukraine.
  • On Monday, Han met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which the State Department described as ‘candid and constructive.’
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped the annual UN meeting this year. China’s top diplomat and foreign minister Wang Yi also did not attend. He has been on a trip to Russia just a day after meeting with U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan in Malta.

The Background: China’s status as a Global South country is the subject of contradiction. Beijing walks the line between being among the world's developing nations and being a global economic superpower in a rivalry with the West. President Xi launched the Global Initiatives in 2021 in order to implement projects alongside the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which focuses on infrastructure projects.

Likely Outcomes:

  • Han’s speech does not seem to come from a place of strength. Although China has recently shored up ties with several Global South countries, has a track record of implementing cooperative initiatives around the world, and has been slowly increasing yuan-based international settlements, the speech comes amid the backdrop of intensified east-west tensions, alarming developments in the Chinese economy, and the muted confidence in the initiative projects abroad in the last decade. It remains to be seen whether China can overcome this loss of momentum and truly convince the international community of its alternative vision.
  • As the world adopts a risk-averse tone, some countries may bet on the West as a tried and true path of established structures and institutions. Others may try to ride the fence between the West and China and seek the benefits of both. While many countries have forged agreements and partnerships with China for future cooperation, it is uncertain whether these promises will bear fruit in the end.
  • High-level meetings between Western and Chinese leaders have thus far acted as pressure-release valves for the tensions, which have held so far. There may yet be a meeting between Xi and U.S. President Joe Biden before the end of the year.


“China opposes hegemonism, power politics, unilateralism and Cold War mentality. A small number of countries have arbitrarily imposed illegal and unilateral sanctions, severely undermining the harmony and stability of international relations. The international community should jointly resist such acts…As the largest developing country, China is a natural member of the Global South. It breathes the same breath with other developing countries and shares the same future with them…China will remain a member of the big family of developing countries.” – Han Zheng, vice president of China

Good Reads:

China, at UN, presents itself as a member of the Global South as alternative to a Western model (AP)

China committed to opening itself wider to the world -vice president (Reuters)

Chinese Vice-President Han Zheng tells UN General Assembly to oppose ‘hegemonism’ (SCMP)

Top US diplomat Blinken meets China's VP Han at U.N. amid strained ties (Reuters)

In speech at UN, Chinese VP calls on world to stay true to multilateralism, improve global governance (Xinhua)