The U.S. cut its funding to UNESCO in 2011 during the administration of former President Barack Obama in solidarity with Israel and in opposition to the Palestinian National Authority becoming a full member of the organization. The move was further escalated in 2017 under former President Donald Trump when the U.S. formally withdrew from UNESCO, citing perceived "pro-Palestinian bias" within the agency.
This new decision to return to the organization comes as U.S. officials in the administration of President Joe Biden recognize the importance of the organization in Washington's ongoing rivalry with communist China. The Department of State officially communicated its desire to return to UNESCO in a letter sent to the body on June 8.
Undersecretary of State for Management John Bass emphasized in a statement the importance of American engagement with UNESCO, stating that it would fill a critical gap in the global leadership capacity of the country.
"If we're really serious about the digital-age competition with China, we can't afford to be absent any longer from one of the key fora in which standards around education for science and technology are set," he said, arguing that the absence undercuts Washington's ability "to be as effective in promoting our vision of a free world."
This move follows the U.S.'s return to the UN Human Rights Council in 2021 after a three-year hiatus. The U.S. rejoined the council due to concerns over China's increasing influence within that global body as well, and the need to counter it effectively.
To facilitate America's return to UNESCO, scheduled for some time in July, Seceretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Congress to allocate around $150 million to provide the organization with funding.
Blinken emphasized that the absence of the U.S. from UNESCO has allowed China to shape regulations in the agency, especially regarding artificial intelligence, highlighting the need for American participation in these discussions. (Related: China wants to legitimize censorship by creating U.N. convention that will criminalize dissemination of "false information" online.)
Blinken further pointed out that China currently holds the distinction as the largest contributor to UNESCO, granting it considerable influence over the organization's decisions while the U.S. remains absent from the table. By rejoining and immediately disbursing $150 million for UNESCO's use, the U.S. seeks to actively shape these regulations and maintain a competitive edge against China in the global technological landscape.
The U.S. has identified China as its primary global adversary due to its rapid advancements in emerging technologies. The allocation of $150 million to UNESCO ensures that the U.S. remains at the forefront of global discussions and has a say in developing critical standards and regulations. By re-engaging with UNESCO, the U.S. intends to counterbalance Chinese influence and actively shape the future of artificial intelligence and other essential fields.
Learn more about China's recent activities at CommunistChina.news.
Watch this video of UNESCO deciding to develop principles for regulation of digital platforms.