In interfering WIPO election, US lays bare toxic 'America First' agenda

By Cong Ge Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/1 17:27:07

Photo: GT

When US President Donald Trump put forth his "America First" agenda a few years ago, the world scrambled to find out what exactly it entails and what would be the implications. Then the US ripped apart existing trade deals, tossed out hard-fought international agreements on a wide range of issues from climate change to Iran's nuclear program and global arms control, abandoned UN agencies and crippled the WTO. Finally, the world came to see the ugly truth of that agenda, under which the US seeks to maximize its selfish interests through whatever it takes, even if that means unscrupulously cracking down on other countries, shamelessly disregarding international norms and rules, and irresponsibly wreaking havoc on the global community.

That brings us to the election next week for the new director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a UN agency tasked with overseeing the world's vast intellectual property (IP) systems. The election in itself should be a standard matter - member states make their nominations and vote for the candidate best equipped to run the agency. Perfectly in line with WIPO rules, China nominated Wang Binying, a highly-regarded professional who is currently serving as the deputy director general. But as the world has witnessed in recent weeks, the US, which has no candidate of its own on the ballot, has singlehandedly highjacked the conversation about the election, which should focus on professional merits of the candidates, by injecting its poisonous politics into the process. And in doing so, it has once again laid bare its selfishness and bigotry under the "American First" agenda.

Following Wang's nomination, certain US officials and other figures have mounted a fierce campaign against her candidacy, spitting out obsolete accusations against China's IP system without any shred of evidence, lobbying other countries to vote for "anyone but Chinese" and even threatening to cut aid for countries that refuse to bow to its will. 

In an article in the Financial Times last week, Peter Navarro, a top trade advisor at the White House, openly called for the US government to interfere in the WIPO election to deny China's nominee, citing the US' baseless accusations of poor IP protection and IP theft by China. Indicating that the US was following up such a call with action, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly said that the US was "tracking" the election "very, very closely" and was "engaged in lots of conversations."

Remarkably, the main target of the US' campaign is not Wang's credentials, which are impeccable as even some US experts noted. Instead, they aimed their firepower at China's IP system with groundless yet fearmongering rhetoric. "China is the [No. 1] threat to IP,"  John Bolton, the former US National Security Advisor who was fired last year, wrote in a tweet on Friday.

Facts speak louder than words. For any fair-minded person, China's progress in IP over the past years is nothing less than a miracle. Starting from scratch, China has built a robust IP protection system in line with global rules and standards within just four decades. Global inventors and businesses should know China's IP environment better than any of these US politicians. In 2019, entities from 186 countries and regions filed 157,000 patent applications and 255,000 trademark applications in China, up 6 percent and 4.7 percent year-on-year, official data showed. Noticeably, US entities filed for 39,000 patent applications and 54,000 trademark applications in China. 

If China had such a poor IP protection system as some US politicians describe, why are foreign entities flocking to China to register new IPs? If China was such a terrible place to do business as these US politicians describe, why would US companies, such as Apple and Tesla, rush to invest in China? 

The fact remains that world organizations and many foreign experts have recognized China's progress in IP protection. The WTO Trade Policy Reviews on China in 2018 fully affirmed China's IP protection and noted China's various policies and measures in that regard. How could the US turn a blind eye to all of these? Could it be because these US politicians are sour over China's rise as a global leader in innovation and make an ill attempt to contain it? 

Indeed, China has become a leading force in global innovation. It topped the world's ranking for new patent application filings for a ninth consecutive year and for trademarks for an 18th straight year in 2019. China's ranking in the Global Innovation Index report released by WIPO and other organizations has jumped from 35th place in 2013 to 14th in 2019. China has the largest pool of active researchers - 1.7 million in 2016 - and is the second-biggest spender in research and development - 1.97 trillion yuan ($281.8 billion) in 2018. Needless to say China did not get to where it is today by just stealing from others. 

Obviously, these facts do not matter for these US politicians because they do not fit into their narrative of China as a threat to everything and, more importantly, their ulterior motive to contain China at all costs. However, some of those costs will also be borne by the US itself, at least in terms of its credibility, if there is any left after actions of launching bruising trade wars and crippling critical global organizations. Even in the area of IP, the US has no creditability as the world has seen in Washington's crackdown on Chinese telecom firm Huawei without any proof. Despite fierce lobbying and even threats from the US against using Huawei's technology, many, including some of its European allies, did not budge. What does that say about the US' credibility?

But that did not stop the US from meddling in the WIPO election. Washington has brought the same exact playbook, whether it's relentless efforts to smear China and paint China as a threat or threats to other countries to bend at its will. However, one thing that should be absolutely clear to every member state is that this is not merely an attack on China, rather it's a continuity of the US' "America First" agenda. It is not about furthering the multilateral agency's mission, but rather it is very much about putting Washington's interests above all the other member states. 

Illuminating the reason behind Washington's fierce campaign against China's candidate, James Pooley, a former deputy director general of the agency in charge of the critical Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT, wrote on Thursday that the WIPO is the only one agency in the UN that "actually delivers practical value to US businesses." That is almost like saying the US can abandon all the other UN branches but it has to fight for the WIPO.

It is clear that Washington's endgame here is not just stopping Wang from becoming the next director general. Containing China might fit into the US' policy, but, in this case, it might just be a means to put its self-interests at the WIPO above all the others. It would surely not stop meddling in WIPO's work unless the whole agency serves its interests as opposed to the shared interests of all member states, not matter who wins the election. 

The US has long criticized the WIPO for alleged corruption and for working with China, Russia, North Korea and Iran - all members of the WIPO. In 2016, a US lawmaker, Christopher Smith, called the WIPO "the FIFA of UN agencies" suggesting the agency was as corrupt as the world soccer organization that was engulfed in a massive corruption scandal. Smith even "invited" Francis Gurry, the outgoing WIPO chief from Australia, to appear before a hearing at the US Congress. Let this sink in for a bit. A US lawmaker asked the head of a multilateral agency to be questioned at the US Congress as if the WIPO is part of the US government.

That should be extremely alarming to all WIPO members. And as they cast their vote next week, they should keep in mind that Washington's true motive in attacking Wang's candidacy is not about selecting the best candidate to run the agency for the common interests of all member states. Bending over at the will of US politics will only invite more blatant interference in WIPO's work.    

The author is a reporter of the Global Times.  


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