BEIJING — China extended a warm welcome this week to the incoming United Nations chief, António Guterres, praising the world body and making clear that it wants a greater role there, at a time when Donald J. Trump’s election to the White House has many wondering whether American involvement will recede.
China supported Mr. Guterres in his campaign for secretary general, and President Xi Jinping, who met with him in Beijing on Monday, hailed the United Nations’ work and noted China’s support for the Paris Agreement on climate change. Mr. Trump has suggested that he will withdraw the United States from the accord.
Mr. Guterres’s visit, which ended on Tuesday, was another chance for China to promote its growing role in global governance, on matters as varied as the nuts and bolts of peacekeeping to high-level forums like the Group of 20 economic summit meeting, which was held in September in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.
“China wants to step in and make the international system work,” said Baohui Zhang, a professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “Xi wants to present China as the new force that will sustain the post-World War II architecture by becoming the indispensable power.”
At the same time, Dr. Zhang said, China is building its own parallel structures, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a response to the World Bank. During his visit, Mr. Guterres said the new bank was a welcome addition to the international system.
Mr. Xi praised the United Nations with unusually strong language for a Chinese leader, calling it “the most universal, representative and authoritative intergovernmental international organization.”
Mr. Guterres, who becomes secretary general on Jan. 1, has also met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia since winning the United Nations’ top job, but he has yet to meet with Mr. Trump. The American president-elect has chosen Nikki R. Haley, the governor of South Carolina, who has little experience in foreign affairs, to be his envoy to the United Nations.
China’s campaign to enhance its role at the United Nations dates from September 2015, when Mr. Xi made his first visit to the annual General Assembly meeting in New York. There, he pledged that China would establish a permanent peacekeeping force of 8,000 troops and donate $1 billion to a United Nations “peace and development fund.”
More essential than ever.
Of the five permanent members of the Security Council, China has deployed the most troops in peacekeeping operations, including to conflict zones like South Sudan, where two Chinese soldiers were killed on a mission in July. A United Nations report found that the Chinese soldiers had left their posts during fighting there.
While Mr. Guterres did not mention that episode during his visit, he said he wanted to make sure that United Nations peacekeepers were better trained and were respectful of human rights. The Chinese Defense Ministry rejected reports that the soldiers had failed to protect aid workers who were raped.
Mr. Guterres praised China during his visit, but he also made some remarks that could be interpreted as a polite reminder about human rights. With Foreign Minister Wang Yi at his side on Monday, Mr. Guterres called for “an effective combination in human rights, of civil and political rights and the economic and social rights in a balanced way.” He did not refer explicitly to China, but the point was clear.
One of China’s human rights issues touches on the agency Mr. Guterres has run since 2005, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A United Nations commission criticized China in 2014 for forcibly returning tens of thousands of North Koreans who had crossed the border into China over two decades. It said a vast majority had been subjected to inhumane treatment — including imprisonment, execution and torture — after being returned.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said the Chinese authorities continued to intercept North Koreans who cross the border, in hopes of going south to Laos or Thailand and beyond. China automatically classifies North Koreans crossing the border as economic migrants, not refugees fleeing persecution, he said.
What is more, he said, China bans the refugee agency from sending its representatives to the border to interview North Koreans and to make their own determinations about their status.
“In short, U.N.H.C.R. has been told to stay away from the North Koreans,” in violation of the United Nations convention on refugees, which China has signed, Mr. Robertson said.